From 1917–1918, millions of brave men and women left their homes to fight for their country in the Great War. It’s likely that someone in your family tree was among them. Do you know their story? Draft and service records from World War I can be a rich source of information about your ancestors, including physical descriptions, vital information, and details about their involvement in the war. Discover the part your ancestor played in the war to end all wars, preserve their legacy, find out how it lives on in you. Download and print posters to invite others to learn more.
WWI Records and Genealogy
The following articles offer tips to help you along the way as you research your World War I military ancestors.
Find Your Ancestors in WWI Records
Access US Soldiers’ Records from WWI
Learn about some of the most valuable WWI records with this presentation from RootsTech 2018.
WWI: Indexed Records Connect Families
Military records can provide insights into your ancestors’ lives and the lives of those around them.
There are plenty of records available to help you learn about your ancestors who fought in World War I, including draft and service records, local newspapers, burial registers, and more. If you know where your ancestor was from or what unit they served in, you can look for them in United States World War I State and Local Histories or United States World War I Unit Histories. Dive into FamilySearch’s collections to see what you can discover. Or, help others find their ancestors by helping to index WWI records.
Find more information about United States World War I military records here.
WWI Timeline: A Brief History
World War I began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Russia and Germany soon joined the conflict, followed by Britain, France, and Italy. On April 6, 1917, the US declared war on Germany, and 2.8 million men were drafted to fight. Over the course of the next eighteen months, more than 4 million US troops would be mobilized. By the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918, the violence across Europe resulted in an estimated thirty-seven million casualties and more than sixteen million deaths (including both civilians and military personnel).
- 28 July 1914: World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
- Allies: Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States
- Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary
- 1914: The Western Front was created. 700 miles of warfare trenches extended from the North Sea through Belgium and France.
- 1917: The US entered the war because Berlin started bombing neutral ships, including five American merchant ships, and sank the RMS Lusitania, a passenger ship.
- 3 February 1917: Diplomatic relations with Germany were severed by the US.
- 6 April 1917: The US Congress declared war on Germany.
- 18 May 1917: The Selective Service Act (or draft) was authorized to raise an army in the US, giving women new opportunities for jobs.
- 31 Oct 1918: The two-millionth US soldier reached France.
- 11 November 1918: The Armistice was signed. World War I hostilities ended with the surrender of Germany.
- 18 June 1919: The Treaty of Versailles was signed.
One group of men who served on the front lines was the 369th infantry of the 93rd division, a group of African American soldiers better known as the Harlem Hellfighters and Men of Bronze, nicknames given to them by the French. These men were known for their fierce combat, fighting longer and harder than any other infantry. The tenacity and toughness of the Harlem Hellfighters continue with us today as we remember and honor their lives and the lives of all who valiantly served in the military.
More than 50,000 military dogs served in World War I, including the famous Sergeant Stubby. World War I was the first war in which military dogs were mobilized on a massive, organized scale.
WWI Files to Download and Print
You can download and print this poster and rack card to spread the word and invite others to honor and remember those impacted by WWI.
Source: New on FamilySearch