The rumor that’s circulated for many years in the family is that Granddaddy Bill fudged his birth date in order to join the Army during World War I because he was under age. His Social Security Death Index, State of Georgia death certificate 1 and cemetery headstone all state 13 Jan 1898 as his birth date. His WWI service card shows that he joined the Alabama National Guard 3 Jul 1916 and stated his age as 18. 2 Proof enough that he was indeed 18 and not under age, right?
That’s what I thought for a long time. But then I started looking more closely at the proofs of evidence I have for his age, and it just didn’t add up.
The 1900 U.S. federal census taken 6 Jun 1900 in Ward 1, Columbus, Muscogee County, GA, shows Wm. H. McCune, age 1, living with his mother, Carrie, 27, and his brother, Frank M., 3, in the household of his grandmother, Rebecca Tillman, 53, widowed, along with her other children, Chas. J., 22, Thomas, 19, and Ludie, 15. Granddaddy Bill’s birth date is given as January 1899. 3
If he had been born in January 1898, surely the family would have told the census enumerator visiting the household in June 1900 that he was two-years-old. Actually, he would have been about 2 1/2. His brother Frank’s birthdate is given as 27 Feb 1897 in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index. 4 In the 1900 census, his age is 3, with a birth date of Feb 1897. If Granddaddy Bill had been born in January 1898, the two boys would have only been 11 months apart in age.
But the 1910 U.S. federal census gives different estimated birth years for both boys which is not unusual as far as censuses go. Names, ages, years and places of birth cannot be considered 100% accurate on a census. It depends on which household member was being interviewed by the census enumerator for the information. Granddaddy Bill is listed as 12 with an estimated birth year of 1898, and Frank is 14 with an estimated birth year of 1896. 5
So, what do we believe? Which birth year is accurate, 1898 or 1899? How old was Granddaddy Bill when he signed up for service?
Unfortunately, the state of Georgia didn’t legally require birth and death registrations until 1919 so I haven’t found a birth certificate for him. I also don’t have a family Bible showing birth and death dates. I checked all the censuses listing Granddaddy Bill, and this is what I found: 1920 U.S. federal census gives his age as 21, no birth date, but that would put his birth year at 1899; 6 1930 census, age 31, estimated birth year, 1899; 7 1940 census, the last one publicly available, age 41, estimated birth year, 1899. 8 I would assume that Grandmother McCune was the person interviewed by the enumerator at each 10-year census visit since she was a homemaker and Granddaddy was at work. Did she give his “real” age?
Conclusion – “officially” his birth date is 13 Jan 1898. It was his story, and he stuck to it. In genealogy terms, this falls under the label of evidence inconsistency. But, my gut reaction points to a birth year of 1899 as probable and likely. Anyone who has “proof,” please step forward!
Next up – “Over there, over there!”
- Alabama Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, death certificate no. SC-01 984 894, Willie Herschell McCune (1976) ↩
- McCune, Willie, Georgia, World War I Service Card, 1917-1919 (Form 724-1 1/2, A.G.O.), digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 Oct 2015) ↩
- 1900 U.S. census, Muscogee County, Georgia, population schedule, Ward 1, sheet 9A, dwelling 135, family 194, Rebecca A. Tillman; image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T623, roll 214 ↩
- Frank McCune, Feb 1937, Application for Acount Number, U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, online image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015) ↩
- 1910 U.S. census, Spalding County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 21B, ED 117, dwelling 367, family 411, William M. McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T624, roll 209 ↩
- 1920 U.S. census, Russell County, Alabama, population schedule, Ward 5, Girard City, ED 186, sheet 15A, dwelling 438, family 443, Willie McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T625, roll 40 ↩
- 1930 U.S. census, Russell County, Alabama, population schedule, Phenix City, Ward 9, Beat 1, sheet 7A, ED 57-4, dwelling 135, family 147, W.H. McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T626, roll 47 ↩
- 1940 U.S. census, Muscogee County, Georgia, population schedule, Columbus, sheet 10B, ED 106-21, family 204, Willie H. McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T627 ↩