While doing historical research, Gilbert Tauber, member of the planning committee of the BNHG, came across a surprising document in the New York County Clerk's office. In this article he notes the significance of the long overlooked 1917 New York Military Census and its possibilities for further research.
Earlier this year, while doing some research at the New York County Clerk’s office, I noticed a stack of large-format volumes bound in bright red cloth. I learned that they were records from a statewide military census that was conducted in June 1917
The volumes consisted of bound, typewritten ledger sheets listing names, addresses, ages, occupations, marital status, and much other information for most of the adult male population of Manhattan. According to the Bruce Abrams, the longtime archivist there, these volumes have never been published or digitized. (They are also difficult to search in their present form because they are alphabetized only by the first letter of the last name.) Although I have been doing historical research on NYC for many years, I had never heard of this census. It piqued my interest because my father had fought in World War I as a member of New York’s 77th Division
Looking into the New York Times online archives, I learned that the 1917 Military Census had included all New York State residents between the ages of 16 and 50, both men and women. The questions asked went far beyond those of the Federal census, including citizenship; any previous military experience; responsibilities for care of dependents; and any special skills of potential use to the war effort, such as nursing, the ability to type, drive a motor vehicle, or pilot an airplane. The questionnaires were slightly different for men and women. Upstate, the census was conducted through a house-to-house survey. In New York City, the authorities set up hundreds of census stations where people could come to fill out their questionnaires. The stations were largely staffed by volunteers, mainly women, from such organizations as the YWCA, the National League for Women’s Service and the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. It appears that the census was successful in reaching all but a tiny percentage of its target population.