The World War I questionnaire project (Record Group 239) was part of an effort to gather and preserve the history of Tennessee's involvement in what was then known as the Great War. On January 24, 1919 the state legislature resolved that a committee of 25 be appointed, to be known as the Tennessee State Historical Committee, part of whose duties was to "collect, compile, index and arrange all data and information of every kind and character relating to the part Tennessee has played in the Great War".
As early as 1919, patriotic women of the state were appointed as 'Mother-Chairmen' in every county to organize and supervise the work. In the 1921-1923 Report of the Tennessee Historical Commission it was stated that "strong efforts are being made by this department to collect the individual record of every soldier, sailor, airman and marine in the World War". Besides the questionnaires, Gold Star records consisting of information on soldiers who died during the War were also being compiled. During this period, Mrs. Rutledge Smith began compiling abstracts of the service records of World War I soldiers.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives houses the resulting 4,453 questionnaires, representing less than 5% of the approximately 100,000 Tennesseans who served in World War I. It was reported that the work of gathering the data was "tedious and in some counties not as satisfactory as could be wished because of the indifference of the soldiers toward preserving their records, some of them even refusing to comply with the request to fill out the record cards because of their seeming desire to forget everything connected with the horrors of war . . ." The Historical Commission was abolished in 1923, possibly accounting for the small number of questionnaires completed.
Seventy seven of Tennessee's ninety five counties are represented in the 4,415 questionnaires. There are 785 questionnaires that cannot be identified with a particular Tennessee county. The questionnaires are indexed alphabetically by the name of the soldier. The county listed in the index is the county of birth, if it is given; if not, then the county of enlistment is used.
The following is a list of data compiled on a completed application:
- date of birth
- place of birth
- marital status / number in family
- names of parents
- parents' place of birth
- nearest of kin
- church preference
- date and place of entering service
- branch of service
- company, regiment, and division
- rank when entering service
- where trained
- dates of sailing for and arrival in Europe
- casualties (including being taken prisoner)
- dates of sailing for and arrival in America
- date mustered out
- rank when mustered out
Unfortunately, the handwriting on some questionnaires is illegible, the ink faint, and some of the questions left unanswered. Every effort was made to translate the information correctly for this index. Below you can see a sample questionnaire that is filled out completely and legibly.
The questionnaires are available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Please go to our web page on ordering records for ordering information.