Discover Your American World War I Ancestors

Records & Resources for Researching WWI Veterans & Volunteers

​On 6 April 1917 the United States entered the First World War, participating through the war's end on 11 November 1918. Even prior to formally entering the war, the U.S. was an important supplier to Britain and other Allied powers. Over 4,000,000 American military personnel served during World War I, suffering over 300,000 casualties. Of these, there were approximately 117,000 deaths, including 43,000 due to the influenza pandemic of 1918.

In addition to the men (and women) who served in the military, many others contributed on the home front, either through wartime jobs or participation in relief organizations. Even if you have no military WWI ancestors, you may find one who worked in a munitions factory, or knitted socks to send to the troops. 

The last American veteran of World War I died in 2011, but you may still have living family members who remember the war and/or their fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who served. Begin your search at home by talking to these older relatives, looking for family records which may document your WWI ancestors' service, and visiting the cemeteries where they are buried. If they were in the military, the goal is to determine which branch of the service they served in, including the unit, and whether they were regular military, reserve corps, or even National Guard. You'll also find it helpful to learn as much as you can from your relatives about the countries in which they were stationed, and battles they participated in. If you don't have living relatives, you may be able to glean some details of your WWI ancestor's service from their obituary or tombstone.

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Military Abbreviations Found on U.S. Grave Markers

Gravestone of World War I veteran in Bellingham, Massachusetts. Getty / Zoran Milich

A search for information on WWI military ancestors may begin with little but an inscription on an ancestor's tombstone. Many military graves are inscribed with abbreviations that denote the unit of service, ranks, medals, or other information on the military veteran. Many may also be marked with bronze or stone placques provided by the Veterans Administration. This list includes some of the most common abbreviations.

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World War I Draft Registration Cards

WWI Draft Registration Card for George Herman Ruth, aka Babe Ruth. National Archives & Records Administration

All males in the United States between the ages of 18 and 45 were required by law to register for the draft throughout 1917 and 1918, making WWI draft records a rich source of information on millions of American males born between about 1872 and 1900—both those who were called up for service, and those who weren't.

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American Red Cross Nurse Files, 1916–1959

A group of nurses aboard the S.S. Red Cross on 12 September 1914, one of the first units of American Red Cross nurses to sail from New York for service in Europe during World War One. Getty / Kean Collection

If your relative served in the American Red Cross during World War I, has a great online database of Red Cross nurse employment files which contain personal information on individuals (mostly women) who served as nurses in the Red Cross between 1916 and 1959. Subscription required.

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American Battle Monuments Commission

The Somme American Cemetery in Bony, France. Getty Images News / Peter Macdiarmid

Of the 116,516 Americans who lost their lives during World War I, 30,923 are interred at overseas American military cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), and 4,452 are commemorated on their Tablets of the Missing as missing in action, lost or buried at sea. Search by name or browse by cemetery. The ABMC also maintains cemeteries for veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts. Free.

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U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798–1958

Partial muster roll from the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina, September 1917. National Archives & Records Administration

This database on subscription-based website contains an index and images of U.S. Marine Corps muster rolls from 1798-1958, which covers the World War I years. Information you may learn includes name, rank, enlistment date, muster date, and station, plus remarks including promotions, individuals absent or deceased, and date of last payment. Subscription required.

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Historical Newspapers

Research World War I ancestors in historical newspapers.
A crowd of people sharing a newspaper after the announcement of the signing of the Armistice, which ended World War I, November 1918. Getty / Paul Thompson / Archive Photos

Search local papers for news of war efforts on the home front, plus stories of big battles, casualty lists, and news items on local boys home on furlough, or taken prisoner of war. Just remember, if you're searching for contemporary accounts, to use the term "great war" or just "world war." It wasn't termed World War One until WWII came along. Restricting your search to the dates of the war will help further focus your search.

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The Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I

The Stars and Stripes, The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I
American Memory: The Stars and Stripes. The Library of Congress

This online collection from the Library of Congress' American Memory exhibit presents the complete seventy-one-week run of the World War I edition of the newspaper "Stars and Stripes." Written by and for the American soldiers at the warfront and published in France between 8 February 1918 and 13 June 1919. Free.

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American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project

American Life Histories - Federal Writers' Project of the WPA
A collection of over 2,900 life histories, including a number describing life during WWI, from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The Library of Congress

This Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents created by over 300 writers from 24 states between 1936 and 1940, including narratives, dialogues, reports, and case studies. Search for "world war" in order to locate life histories that mention World War I.