Why would someone lie about their age on a draft notice?
May 27, 2016 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I need some help brainstorming. Looking on Ancestry.com, I have found two draft cards (well, one draft card and one draft registration card) that are definitely the same person, but the birth year is off by four years. It doesn't seem to me to be an issue of skirting an age limit on either end. Ideas?

Details: The person in question is Canadian-born. Both cards are for the U.S. draft.

World War I: The birth year on the draft card is listed as 1873, and the age listed is 43. According to my quick internet research, the draft limit was originally 30, and then expanded to 45.

World War II: The draft registration card, from 1942, has this person listed as 65 years old, with a birth year of 1877.

Am I whiffing on something here? Is there any reason that this person would have purposefully changed their age for either draft?
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Were the cards necessarily filled out by the person in question? It's possible that the year in either case could have been a transcription error. Given the person was too old for the draft in the second case even with +/- 4 years, there doesn't seem to be a draft-related reason to lie on the birth year.
posted by BrandonW at 8:47 AM on May 27, 2016

Is this all the information you have on the person? Can you check census records to see which one is correct? Are you looking at the actual cards and not the transcriptions of them? Would there have been some benefit to them for registering in WWII since 65 was basically the cut off date for registering, maybe there was some value to them for doing that?
posted by jessamyn at 8:49 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but the cards have the same handwriting, so I assume they were both written by this person. Going by census data, in 1940, he said he was 63 (in line with WWII card), in 1930, he said he was 54 (in line with WWII card), and in 1920, there are two people with his name listed in the census in the town he lived in (weird, right). One lists him as 45 years old, and the other says his age is not known.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:56 AM on May 27, 2016

It wasn't that odd for people to not have birth certificates back then, nor for people to have been "assigned" birth years based on how big they were. If this person had been tall for his age at some point, he might have genuinely though he was 43 in 1916, and only later been corrected.
posted by Etrigan at 9:04 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

It could have been part of a general trend to shift his age lower. He might have knocked a year or two off every now and again and used the new age in everything he did. If he was a labourer he may well have decided to say he was 39 or 49 for a couple of years to avoid becoming an "old man" at 40 or 50 and losing work. There may have been other reasons which we don't know about today, such as matching a potential partner or seeking to qualify for something else age-related.
posted by Emma May Smith at 9:09 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would not be surprised if, at that time, he wasn't completely sure what year he'd be born in, especially if he were born somewhere rural.
posted by praemunire at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2016

Maybe there really were two people with the same name and they were related and a third party filled out all the forms.
posted by bq at 9:18 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

It seems like if people knew the draft limit was going to be raised to 45 in the earlier draft, he might have lowered his age on that draft in order to be draft/enlistment eligible.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:21 AM on May 27, 2016

bq, the first card has his wife's name [that I know for sure is real], and the second has his son, my father in law, as next of kin.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:21 AM on May 27, 2016

Does the 7 in 1877 have a line through its middle? That is, could the 3 and 7 look very similar?
posted by Hypatia at 9:44 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I help register voters. People are terrible at writing their birthdate down correctly. That box on the form is the single most likely place to find an error, and the number one overall mistake is birth year. Normally people substitute the current year, but switching the final digit -- especially to the same one as the final digit of his age, which it sounds like he also had to write down so would have had in mind -- strikes me as entirely plausible, the sort of mistake that a voter and I would laugh over as I slid the form back for correction. (Sometimes, people even mix it up a second time after we've had our chuckle! It just seems like a weird psychological glitch/loop that can get triggered somehow.)
posted by teremala at 9:47 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

If he is of a culture with a different system for marking age (Asian systems, etc.), this might be an issue in translation, as it were.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:52 AM on May 27, 2016

Oh, hm, the window for the WWI draft was tighter than I was imagining, so it looks like the math actually checks out for both possibilities. Maybe he was not the sort of person who much cared how old he was and recalculated his age based on a misremembered year?
posted by teremala at 9:59 AM on May 27, 2016

I think this is just a case of not knowing when he was born. As others have pointed out, record-keeping was different back then, especially in poorer and more rural communities, so he might not have actually known what year he was born in. Anecdotally, from other things I've seen and read, that doesn't seem uncommon.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2016

Nthing he honestly may not have known.

The first test that later became IQ tests was developed in France to try to find some means to determine school readiness. This was due to the fact that rural children and city kids had incredibly different knowledge bases and, especially for the rural kids, birth year was often not known. So it did not work to use age as a metric for school enrollment, at least in some cases. So they needed some means to say "Yeah, this child is cognitively ready for kindergarten or first grade" other than a birth date.

This issue (of just not having birth certificates) may have been worse in the US, which was a much younger, much more rural back water of a country. It is easy to forget that the U.S. was not really taken that seriously by the world prior to WW2. We are a "first world country" and all that now, but that is a relatively recently developed status. I think they used to record births in the family Bible. Kids were often born at home in the middle of nowhere and the Bible was often the only book the family owned. So annotating the birth in their Bible was sometimes the only (hand wavy) record.
posted by Michele in California at 11:40 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Was he younger than his wife? My great-grandfather was younger than his wife. All documents before his marriage, his birth year is accurate. In all documents after his marriage (including his marriage certificate) his birth year is +5 to make him older than his wife.
posted by hworth at 12:20 PM on May 27, 2016

My cousin told me that his grandfather got older (he was the same generation as your relative), he didn't age as fast as the rest of us (a nice way of saying his supposed birth year moved forward). Grandfather then pointed to a WWII era document with his date of birth as proof. Cousin pointed that he himself completed the document so it's official nature wasn't that convincing.

However, given that you have three different documents over a ten year period that support the same birth year, I would tend to go with that with a foot note although usually I favor earlier dates and/or one that list the actual birth year rather than the age, both of which support the WWI date.
posted by metahawk at 4:26 PM on May 27, 2016

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