Between us, Patrick Rock and I have found about 250 Negro Leaguers with World War I draft cards. They yield specific birth dates and places, along with other information, much of which is completely new to researchers. The draft cards confirm older research and longtime assumptions in some cases, conflict with them in others. A good number of players who had previously been known only by last names or nicknames are now fully identified, with first names, birth dates, and so on. Since the registrants signed the cards, we can see how they rendered their names themselves, which goes a long way toward solving some longstanding problems.
Here’s an example: the American Giants outfielder who has normally been called “Jess Barbour” by historians actually signed his name “Jesse Barber” (which, incidentally, is also how he appears in the 1910 census in Philadelphia, and the 1920 census in Chicago). His name normally appeared in contemporary newspapers and box scores as “Barber”; but at some point, he was confused with the Pittsburgh Keystones’ catcher Elmore Barbour, which is possibly how the “-our” spelling started to be associated with him. (He also appeared in a passenger manifest traveling from Cuba in 1916, accompanied by Frank Wickware, as “Jess Balbour.”) I suspect (though I don’t know for sure yet) that the second baseman “Bull” Barber, who appears in Riley as a Hilldale, Harrisburg, and Kansas City Monarchs player from 1920 to 1925, is actually a third person. Other sources give his name as Leroy Barber, and there is a draft card for a Leroy Barber of the appropriate age living in Fayette, Pennsylvania, which is not far from Harrisburg.
In the ancestry.com database, Barber’s name was digitized as “Burber,” which I think is just a misreading of his signature (he didn’t round off the “a,” making it look like a “u”). Only 15 Burbers appear in the draft card database, and the first couple I checked were definitely mistakes for “Barber.”
In coming weeks I’ll post a few of the more interesting finds from the draft cards. Some further Cuban statistics are also forthcoming (1907 Premio de Verano and the 1908 Cuban League). And I’m nearing the completion of the statistical portion of my big project on the 1920-1922 Negro National League—more on that soon.