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Most people enumerated during the 1940 census will be found on the standard Population Schedule at the address that was their “usual place of residence,” a term that normally referred to the place that the person “regards as his home” and was “the place where the person sleeps.” The “usual place of residence” included people temporarily absent from home, such as persons traveling, attending school or college elsewhere, in a hospital, or enrolled in Civilian Conservation Corps projects.


Image:  Top Portion of Typical 1940 Census Population Schedule


However, in rare instances, some people will instead be found on Form P-10, “Nonresident Schedule.” Who are these people?  The Census Bureau’s Form PA-1, “Instructions to Enumerators: Population and Agriculture, 1940” explained in paragraphs 309 to 312, how nonresidents were to be enumerated:


  • 309. Nonresident Schedule.  If you find that the members of a household object to being included in the population of your district, claiming that their usual place of residence is elsewhere, enumerate them on a Nonresident schedule.


  • 310. The Nonresident schedule differs from the Population schedule in that it includes an inquiry on the location of the usual place of residence as well as the place of residence at the time of enumeration; it also includes the supplementary questions, which are to be asked of all members of any household enumerated on it.


  • 311. Do not assign a household visitation number to households enumerated on the Nonresident schedule. After completing the enumeration of a household on a Nonresident schedule, note in the Enumerator’s Record Book the fact that you have used the Nonresident schedule. You will be paid at the same rate for entries on the Nonresident schedule as for entries on the Population schedule.


  • 312. Mail completed Nonresident schedules, if any, to the District Supervisor at the end of each day’s canvass. Manila envelopes have been provided for the mailing of these schedules.


Some nonresidents were persons were at “tourist or trailer camps” on the night of April 8, 1940, for which the Bureau had special enumeration procedures. Paragraph 325 told enumerators: “Any household living in such a trailer is to be treated like any other household in your district ... unless the household is only temporarily in your district and claims it should be enumerated as resident in another district. In such a case, enumerate it on the Nonresident schedule.” This appears to be the case with Earnest and Lena McAllister of 600 Ruby Street, Niagara, Marinette County, Wisconsin, whom Archie B. Brown, enumerator for ED 58-8, found at “Salt Springs Camp” at Salt Springs, Election Precinct 1, North Sarasota, Sarasota County, Florida.  See image below.


Image:  P-10, Nonresident Schedule, for Earnest and Lena McAllister, which is Image 15 in

1940 Census Population Schedules - Wisconsin - Marinette County - ED 38-23 (NAID 139221104).


In the opening paragraph, I indicated that the Form P-10, Nonresident Schedule, is found only in rare instances.  Why?  The reason is the intense processing and post-enumeration compilation done by the Census Bureau in Washington, DC.


Following the completion of the enumerator’s work and field checks of the completed returns, the enumeration district portfolios were mailed to the Census Bureau in Washington, DC, for processing and compilation of the information into a tabular form for statistical research. Processing involved twelve different “operations” outlined in chapter four of Robert Jenkins, Procedural History of the 1940 Census of Population and Housing (Madison, WI: 1983).


During Operation 1, the staff routed the P-10 Nonresident Schedules to the Bureau’s Geography Division for assignment to the proper enumeration district.


During Operation 3, information on various supplemental forms, including the P-10, Nonresident Schedule, was compared with entries on the regular Population Schedules to determine whether the persons had already been enumerated. “If they had been enumerated, the forms were cancelled; if not, the information on the auxiliary forms was transferred to the population schedule.” Procedural History, p. 48. Great care was taken to determine whether the person was or was not already included on the regular Population Schedule. Finally, “When the entry could not be found on these sheets, the entry for the person was transferred from the individual census form to the sheets used for persons enumerated out of order, i.e., sheets numbered 61 and over.” Procedural History, p. 49.  Furthermore:


The procedures for transferring information from both the nonresident schedules and the absent-household schedules to the population schedule were the same. These procedures relied upon using the street and house numbers whenever possible If these numbers were not available, the name was used to examine the population schedules in order to determine whether all or part of a household had been reported.


When the clerks found entries on the population schedule, they checked the information with that on the nonresident or absent household schedule for discrepancies. If only part of a household appeared on the population schedule, the information on the rest of the members was transferred to the reserved spaces, if any, or to space on the sheets reserved or persons enumerated out of order. Similarly, if none of the members of a household had been listed on the population schedule, their information was transferred to space reserved for the household, if any, or to space on the sheets for persons enumerated out of order. Procedural History, p. 50.


Thus, in the normal course of events, the information for Earnest and Lena McAllister should have been copied from the P-10, Nonresident Schedule, to the Population Schedule. It didn’t happen. Why?


During Operation 1, a clerk in the Geography Division wrote “38-24” for their Enumeration District (ED) which corresponded to Niagara Village.  That 38-24 notation was then crossed out by a person with different handwriting who then wrote 38-23, which corresponded to “Niagara Town outside Niagara Village.” 


During Operation 3, the clerks undoubtedly looked diligently through the schedules for both EDs 38-24 and 38-23 but never found mention of this couple or Ruby Street. That street was probably not on any map held by the Geography Division. There is no Ruby Street on modern maps, either, but the closest phonetic “matches” are Burbey St. in Niagara Town (ED 38-23) or Dewey St. in Niagara Village (ED 38-24). Did the enumerator, Archie B. Brown, mistake Burbey or Dewey as Ruby?  In addition, there is a Ridge Street in Niagara, which, if written with poor handwriting, could be misinterpreted as “Ruby.”  Ultimately, instead of recording Mr. and Mrs. McAllister on the regular Population Schedule, the Bureau retained their P-10, Nonresident Schedule. It was placed it at the end of ED 38-23, and unintentionally preserves a record of their vacation or over-wintering in Florida in 1940.

During the 1940s immigrants needed to follow standard processes to adjust their residency status in the United States.  For immigrants seeking permanent status whose temporary status was running out or who were technically deportable but found to be “meritorious,” there was a secondary practice that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would occasionally employ.  Often referred to as a voluntary departure with preexamination, the immigrant would voluntarily leave the United States for a specified number of days in order to apply for an immigration visa at the American Consul abroad.  If there was a visa available for that nationality (origin quotas were still in effect), the immigrant could apply for preexamination in the United States, get approved as admissible, travel outside the United States (often to Canada) with a special border permit, obtain the proper immigration visa, and return to the United States as a legal permanent resident.  Most immigrants utilizing this process crossed and re-crossed the border in a single day, but the exit and re-entry formally changed their status to “Lawfully Admitted.” 



One immigrant who utilized this arrangement was Elsbeth Lindner (née Schulein), also known as Jacqueline E. Lindner.  Lindner was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on September 1, 1906, and eventually built a successful career as a freelance fashion artist and designer in Berlin and Munich.  Due to religious persecution, she and her husband, Richard Lindner, departed Germany and moved to Paris, France, in July 1933. The Lindners later entered the United States on January 29, 1941, at New York City, as temporary visitors.  Elsbeth had two sisters already residing in the United States, so she set out to obtain permanent residency as well.



After Lindner picked up a freelance project with Vogue magazine, Lucian Vogel, Associate Editor for Condé Nast Publications, Inc. (publishers of Vogue), submitted an affidavit to INS requesting that she be granted a permit which would enable her to work in the United States.  In his April 14, 1941, affidavit Vogel said, “I wish to state that Madame Elsbeth Lindner, a fashion artist who entered this country on January 29, 1941 with an Emergency Visitor’s Visa, was one of my best collaborators in France, and it is very important for us to be able to utilize her peculiar talent and her very specialized knowledge of the reproduction of printed fabrics.” INS held an interview with Lindner at Ellis Island in response to the request.  With support from the National Refugee Service, an application for extension of stay and a later application for preexamination were submitted.



A preexamination hearing was eventually held on February 2, 1943, at Ellis Island.  The Lindners were granted permission to enter Canada at Windsor, Ontario, for a period of ten days.  The pair were readmitted to the United States via the Peace Bridge from Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, to Buffalo, New York, on February 4, 1943, upon presentation of German quota immigration visas issued that same date by the American Consulate at Windsor, Ontario.  Elsbeth went on to work as a fashion illustrator in New York City for Saks Fifth Avenue under the name Jacqueline E. Lindner, and her illustrations were published in a number of popular fashion and lifestyle magazines.



Documentation of Lindner’s pursuit of an immigration visa can be found in her Alien File (A-File) maintained by the National Archives at Kansas City.  Created by INS beginning in April 1944, A-Files contain all records of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the immigration and inspection process.  To learn more about A-Files and the search and request process, you can visit:


Memorandrum to the Canadian Legation dated December 8, 1942, in regards to obtaining permission for Elsbeth and Richard Lindner to enter Canada for the purpose of applying for immigration visas. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

Memorandrum to the Canadian Legation dated December 8, 1942, in regards to obtaining permission for Elsbeth and Richard Lindner to enter Canada for the purpose of applying for immigration visas. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

Memorandrum to the Canadian Legation dated December 8, 1942, in regards to obtaining permission for Elsbeth and Richard Lindner to enter Canada for the purpose of applying for immigration visas. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).



Preexamination Border Crossing Identification Card for Elsbeth Lindner. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

Preexamination Border Crossing Identification Card for Elsbeth Lindner. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

Application for Immigrant Visa (Quota) for Elsbeth Lindner. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

Application for Immigrant Visa (Quota) for Elsbeth Lindner. Record Group 566, Records of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alien Case Files, 1944-2003; Alien Case File for Elsbeth Lindner (NAID 7234721).

The 1930 population census was the first U.S. census to ask about a technological device in the home with column 9: “Radio Set.” In paragraph 145 of their instructions, enumerators were told: “If the family, or any member of the family, has a radio set, write “R” opposite the name of the head of the family.  If the family has no radio set, leave this column blank." In the image below, the families of Edward Conway and Albert Wiemels at 1896 and 1900 W. 57th St., Cleveland, Ohio, both have radio sets, as indicated by the "R" in column 9:

Image from National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Roll 1763, Pct. S, Ward 3, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, ED 18-45, Sheet 17A.


Radio was “the” disruptive technology and new industry of the 1920s that massively altered how people received and consumed news, information, ideas, and entertainment. “Disruptive technology” can be defined as an innovation that significantly changes the activities or habits of consumers, industries, or businesses. Radio informed and modified cultural norms and entertainment. It created consumer demand for products through advertising. New entertainment stars became popular. Sporting events could be followed in real time. Radio was the internet and social media of its time. It was revolutionary.


Radio broadcasting for entertainment began as a hobbyist activity. After the World War I ban on civilian radio stations ended on October 1, 1919, Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, experimented with broadcasting phonograph recordings to other area “wireless” enthusiasts who had “wireless sets.” The Joseph Horne department store advertised in the Pittsburgh Press newspaper on September 29, 1920, that the wireless set it had on display had picked up Conrad’s concert and, oh, by the way, the store sold “Amateur Wireless Sets” for $10 and up. Westinghouse Vice President Harry P. Davis quickly realized that consumer demand for Westinghouse radio receiver sets would be greatly increased if there were radio broadcasting stations to provide “content” (to use a 21st century term). Thus, Westinghouse quickly applied for a commercial radio license which was granted 100 years ago on October 27, 1920. The assigned station name was KDKA, and is today recognized as the first commercial broadcast radio station. On Election Night, November 2, 1920, radio broadcasts by Westinghouse in Pittsburgh and by radio amateurs in Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York, informed the public of the results of the Harding-Cox presidential contest. A new era had begun.


American political leaders viewed radio as a potential source of cultural "uplift" for the population, as represented by this 1924 photograph of “Master Harold Shaver of Jersey City learns to draw by listening in to lessons broadcast by WOR,” Library of Congress Reproduction No. LC-USZ62-38569:


The use of radio as an educational tool in the classroom was also discussed and debated, such as in Carroll Atkinson, Development of Radio Educational Policies in American Public School Systems (Edinboro, PA: Edinboro Educational Press, 1939).


At the same time, business leaders viewed radio as a powerful tool for advertising and selling all kinds of mass-produced goods, just as Davis of Westinghouse had quickly realized, and as captured in the catchy article title by Steve Craig, “The More They Listen, the More They Buy” – Radio and the Modernizing of Rural America, 1930-1939,” Agricultural History, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 1-16.


The brand-new radio industry grew rapidly. In 1930, just ten years after KDKA began, Ruth Cornwall noted in “What About Radio?” (H. K. McCann Co., 1930), that there were more than 500,000 workers employed by 640 manufacturers; 1,500 wholesalers; and 43,822 retailers of radio sets, parts, and accessories - in addition to the 626 U.S. radio stations with their accoutrements and employees.


Thus, after 1920, the radio set became increasingly common but it was not until 1950 that 95% of American households owned radio receivers. As a luxury good, it was not evenly found across all sections of the country or all segments of the population.


The 1930 census statistics showed that 40.3% of all families owned a radio set, but it was more widely adopted in urban areas, with ownership at 50.0%. Ownership in rural farm families was 20.8% and in rural non-farm families, 33.7%. Interestingly, radio ownership by U.S.-born whites who had one or two foreign-born parents was 57.3% overall, which was much higher than ownership by whites with two native-born parents, which was 39.9% overall. Radio ownership by African-American radio was only 7.5% and by other races, 5.9%.

Radio ownership in urban areas and the northern U.S. was much more widespread than in the south, as shown in this map created by the Bureau of the Census:

Researchers interested in additional statistics on radio ownership by region, state, county, city, and other variables, can learn more in Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, Volume VI, Families (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933).


As we know, over time radios were adapted for many other consumer uses, such as installation in automobiles, as shown in Patent 1959869, Radio Control Device, by William P. Lear, May 22, 1934:

In subsequent censuses, questions about radios and other technological devices were relegated to the decennial housing schedules that were completed by only a sample of the full population:


Radios: 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970.

Television Sets: 1950, 1960, 1970.

Telephone: 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000.

Air Conditioning: 1960, 1970, 1980.


Since 2005, technological device questions are included in the American Community Survey (ACS) sent annually to a population sample of about 3.5 million households. In the beginning, this survey only asked whether the household had a telephone (including cellphone), but now (2020) asks about telephone, smartphone, desktop or laptop computers, tablet or other portable wireless computer, and internet access by cellular data plan, broadband, satellite, dial-up, or other means.  The technological revolution continues!

National Archives staff member Claire Kluskens will participate in a panel discussion as part of Howard University Television’s preview of Season 6 of “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on Thursday, 15 October 2020, at 6:30 p.m. This online event is free but you must register at

Some people are difficult - sometimes impossible - to locate in population census records. The reasons vary widely. This post will take a brief look at the unusual situation of blatantly fictional names.


During the 1910 census, Joseph P. Farrelly was assigned to be enumerator of Enumeration District (ED) 27, Ward 3, Precinct 1, of New Orleans City, which was an area bounded on the north by Canal Street, on the east by the Mississippi River, on the south by Julia Street, and on the west by Baronne Street. Some residents of this ethnically and racially diverse area worked in occupations that supported the bustling seaport, where riverboat and railroad traffic delivered agricultural and industrial products for export to the world on ocean-going vessels, and in return, those oceanic vessels delivered imported food and goods.  The photo below, annotated to show the approximate boundaries of ED 27, is a detail from an aerial photograph taken on April 6, 1937.  Canal Street is on the right; Lafayette Square is in the upper middle of the ED.

Thousands of men and women lived as lodgers in crowded multistory racially segregated boarding houses. As long as rent was paid, some boardinghouse keepers probably didn’t want to know too much about the personal circumstances of their lodgers (also called boarders).


For the proprietors of boarding houses and their wives and family members, the information is usually complete: name, age, birthplaces, occupations, and so forth. In contrast, much information is often lacking for the lodgers.  Their names are given, but other information is indicated as “unknown" unless (apparently) the lodger himself was at home and available to provide it. Even some of the lodgers' names are incomplete: first name only, surname only, and even obvious fictional (invented) names.


On Tuesday, April 26, 1910, the 11th day of the census enumeration, Joseph P. Farrelly visited a number of large lodging houses in his enumeration district.


At 600 Fulton Street, a Black couple named Elijah Cheevies, 35, and Rosie Cheevies, age 26, operated a lodging house in a rented building. They had 17 lodgers, whose age, marital status, places of birth, parents’ place of birth, and ability to read and write were given as “un” (unknown). Each was said to be employed as a “roustabout” on the “River,” but whether they were employed on April 15, 1910 or working for themselves or an employer were said to be “un” (unknown).  A roustabout was an unskilled or casual laborer, such as a  a dock laborer, vessel deckhand, or oil rig laborer. Most of the lodgers at the Cheevies house had plausible names that were probably reasonably correct, but a few had names that were clearly invented pseudonyms. Here is the full list of lodgers: Jeff Anderson, Archie Robertson, Davie Hughes, Jim McMiller, William Turner, Tom Morgan, George Clark, George Washington, George Brown, Dallar Doff [Doff Dollar?], Another Time, Black Diamond, Sid Smoky, Clara Robertson, Will Murray, and Peter Buttons. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 14A, Lines 5-23). Here is a detail showing that household:

Additional persons sporting fictional names were reported across the street at 601 Fulton Street, another Black lodging house. The proprietor of this establishment might have been Annie Bell, age 52, a white widow, who lived around the corner at 319 Girod Street, whose occupation was described as the keeper of a rooming house. Since her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Joseph Brown, were the only other residents of 319 Girod, the rooming house had to be a separate nearby building, and 601 Fulton was likely it. Some of the lodgers have plausible names and personal information, while others clearly have invented names: Pretty Shirt Willie, Brass Check Ben, Knox Point, Jim Topsy, Big Smoky, Pittsburg, Bud Hoot, Dollar Bill, Buck Tooth, Ham Sandwich, Fool Kelly, Bare Foot, Black Mace, and Hard Leather.  The enumerator was supposed to record names in “last, first” format, but may not have always followed that rule, so it is sometimes difficult to be sure which part of invented names were intended as the “first” or “last” name. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 13A, Lines 1-50).  Here is a detail showing some people in that boarding house:

Fortunately, blatantly fictional names intended to identify real people are fairly rare in census records.  Mr. Farrelly was probably as diligent as any enumerator. The job was temporary, but not necessarily easy. The census enumerator was an agent of the federal government, but successfully completing the job required persuading people to cooperate. The enumerator also had to judge when imperfect and incomplete information would have to suffice.  So, sure, you can record my information on the census, just call me Another Time and bring Ham Sandwich with you!

The 1940 census is the only U.S. Federal population census for which the researcher can be absolutely certain who answered the enumerator's questions in every household. This can be useful in evaluating the quality and accuracy of the information.  Did the person giving the information know what they were talking about? Are the ages, birthplaces, and other data comparable to information found in other records?


Question 7 on the 1940 census population schedule – "Name" – asked for the "Name of each person whose usual place of residence on April 1, 1940, was in this household." It also directed that "Ab" be written after the names of any person temporarily absent from the household and to record any child under the age of one as "infant" if it had not been given a name. Finally, it directed the enumerator to "Enter (X in a circle) after name of person furnishing information." This image shows the "Name" instruction block which is at the top of each census page:


1940 Census Question 7 Text Block


It was typical for the enumerators to mark the "X in a circle" after the name of only one person in each household, such as seen in this detail from the first page written by Florence Irene Bock, enumerator for Enumeration District 28-19, Russell Township, Geauga County, Ohio:

Detail from T627, 1940 Census, Enumeration District 28-19, Sheet 1A, Russell Township, Geauga County, Ohio


In contrast, Norman G. Wendt, enumerator for Enumeration District 28-7, Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio, frequently marked the X in a circle after the names of multiple people in the households he visited, especially where there were lodgers or in-laws. Her is a detail from the first page of his enumeration:


Detail from T627, 1940 Census, Enumeration District 28-7, Sheet 1A, Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio


The 1940 Federal Population Census can be found online in the National Archives Catalog at "Population Schedules for the 1940 Census" at and on websites such as and  Happy hunting!


This post is the first of a series of blog posts about U.S. Federal census records. I hope you find it useful.

The Department of State issues visas to foreigners traveling to the United States.  Before World War I, alien visitors did not require visaed passports in order to enter the United States (except for a brief time during the Civil War, 1861-1865).  The practice of requiring all aliens to obtain visas from U.S. officials abroad before departure for the United States began in 1917 as a war measure during World War I, and has continued since then.


The National Archives (NARA) maintains Department of State Visa Case Files covering the period 1914-1940 (Entry A1-705, NAID 1253492).  They are divided into three chronological segments:  1914-1923, 1924-1932, and 1933-1940, each arranged alphabetically by name.  With the exception of precedent cases and files that contain policy materials, individual case files for 1914-1923 and 1924-1932 were destroyed by the Department of State.  For more information visit:


Immigrant visas, both quota and non-quota* (and supporting documentation), issued by the Department of State to aliens at U.S. embassies, legations, and consulates overseas are surrendered to U.S. immigration officials upon admission to the United States.  The immigrant visas and associated documentation accumulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) between July 1, 1924, and March 31, 1944, were maintained in INS Visa Files.  Beginning April 1, 1944, the Visa Files series was closed and all new immigrant visas were filed in Alien Files (A-Files).  An immigrant's Visa File may have been removed from the Visa Files series and placed inside a consolidated A-File or Certificate File (C-File) if their case reopened after April 1, 1944.  Visa Files and C-Files are preserved, but remain in the custody of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program (  Transfer of A-Files to NARA for permanent retention has begun.  For more information on A-Files at NARA visit:


*See Sections 4 and 5 of the Immigration Act of 1924 to learn about how quota and non-quota status were defined under the national origins system:

Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. It is a voluntary act; naturalization is not required.


Prior to September 27, 1906, any "court of record" (municipal, county, state, or Federal) could grant United States citizenship. Often petitioners went to the court most geographically convenient for them. As a general rule, the National Archives does not have naturalization records created in state or local courts. However, a few indexes and records have been donated to the National Archives from counties, states, and local courts. Researchers should contact the National Archives facility serving the state in which the petitioner resided to determine if records from lower courts are available. In certain cases county court naturalization records maintained by the National Archives are available as microfilm publications.  Records from state and local courts are often at state archives or county historical societies.


Beginning September 27, 1906, the responsibility for naturalization proceedings was transferred to the Federal courts. Some lower courts continued  the practice for a while. Therefore, researchers may need to look at lower courts records if the National Archives does not maintain a record of naturalization from the early to middle 20th century.


In general, naturalization was a two-step process* that took a minimum of five years. After residing in the United States for two years, an alien could file a "declaration of intention" ("first papers") to become a citizen. After three additional years, the alien could "petition for naturalization" (”second papers”). After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court.  [*Exceptions can include cases of derivative citizenship, processes for minor aliens 1824-1906, and special consideration for veterans.]


If a naturalization took place in a Federal court, naturalization indexes, declarations of intention (with any accompanying certificates of arrival), and petitions for naturalization usually will be in the National Archives facility serving the state in which the Federal court is located. No central index exists.


To ensure a successful request with the National Archives, researchers should include:

  • name of petitioner (including known variants);
  • date of birth;
  • approximate date of entry to the US;
  • approximate date of naturalization;
  • where the individual was residing at the time of naturalization (city/county/state);
  • and country of origin


In most cases, the National Archives will not have a copy of the certificate of citizenship. Two copies of the certificate were created – one given to the petitioner as proof of citizenship, and one forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Certificates of citizenship were issued by the Federal courts until October 1991 when INS took over responsibility for naturalization proceedings.


All INS records are now overseen by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS maintains duplicate copies of court records (including the certificate of citizenship) created September 27, 1906-March 31, 1956 within Certificate Files (C-Files). Beginning on April 1, 1956, INS began filing all naturalization records in a subject’s Alien File (A-File). C-Files and certain A-Files can be requested through the USCIS Genealogy Program. If you are a naturalized citizen seeking your own documentation, you may submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to USCIS to obtain a copy of your A-File and/or request a replacement certificate of citizenship from USCIS.


Please Note:

  • National Archives staff can only issue a certified copy of a document in our custody (see 44 USC 2116 and 44 USC 3112).
  • The National Archives does not have authority to issue an apostille. The US Department of State has the authorization to issue an apostille of a copy of a document certified by the National Archives.
  • The National Archives does not have the authority to issue a certification of non-existence of a record, and can only issue a negative search letter. Negative results for a search of National Archives holdings only indicates that a naturalization record is not in the possession of the National Archives. It does not verify that a file does not exist elsewhere.
  • USCIS has exclusive authority over matters concerning citizenship records after 1906 and can provide a Certification of Non-Existence of a Record of Naturalization (see “About Further Research”).

What is an A-File?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began issuing aliens an Alien Registration number in 1940, and on April 1, 1944, began using this number to create individual case files, called Alien Files or A-Files.

A-Files contain all records of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the United States immigration and inspection process. An A-File might also be created without any action taken by the alien, for example if INS initiated a law enforcement action against or involving the alien.

In a few instances there are files on aliens who registered between 1940 and 1944. These files document aliens who received an Alien Registration number and form prior to 1944, and had an A-File created due to the re-opening of the case after 1944. Files from other series, such as visa files, were withdrawn and placed in the A-Files when cases were reopened in instances such as the filing of applications to replace a document, obtain a border crossing card, or petition for an immigrant relative.

Although the files were created beginning in 1944, documents and information included may be much older than that, and could date to the birth of the person. Documents may also be included that date up to the time of any final action related to the alien which could be deportation, permanent resident status, or citizenship.

A rich source of biographical information, A-Files may include visas, photographs, affidavits, and correspondence leading up to an alien's naturalization, permanent residency, death, or deportation.

Who should have an A-File:

Does my immigrant ancestor have an A-File?

Died before August 1, 1940


Will not have an A-File or an Alien Registration Number. Research other National Archives resources of genealogical interest, such as ship passenger manifest lists, for information about this individual.

Became a naturalized citizen between September 27, 1906 and August 1, 1940

Will not have an A-File or an Alien Registration Number. Inquire with the USCIS Genealogy Program regarding a possible Certificate File (C-File).

Became a naturalized citizen between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1956

Will not have an A-File. Inquire with the USCIS Genealogy Program regarding a possible Certificate File (C-File) or 1940 Alien Registration Form.

Immigrated to the United States after April 1, 1944

Will have an A-File. Check National Archives holdings if born in 1918 or prior. Otherwise, inquire with the USCIS Genealogy Program.

Naturalized on or after March 31, 1956

Will have an A-File. Check National Archives holdings if born in 1918 or prior. Otherwise, inquire with the USCIS Genealogy Program.

Registered in the United States as an alien in 1940 but never came back to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for any reason

Was likely assigned an Alien Registration Number but will not have an A-File. You can obtain a copy of their 1940 Alien Registration Form from the USCIS Genealogy Program.

Registered in the United States as an alien in 1940 and came back to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for any reason (other than naturalization) after 1944

Will have an A-File. Check National Archives holdings if born in 1918 or prior. Otherwise, inquire with the USCIS Genealogy Program.


A-Files for the entire United States and its territories are being centralized at the National Archives at Kansas City. Because of strong interest and advocacy for the A-Files by local research communities and their congressional representatives, the National Archives at San Francisco will maintain some of the available A-Files from the INS district offices located in San Francisco, Honolulu, Reno, and Guam. Researchers seeking individuals who may have lived in these areas should check both the National Archives at San Francisco and Kansas City records for A-Files.

NARA's holdings of A-Files will grow as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) continues to transfer records.


How to Search for A-Files at NARA


Before submitting a request we ask that you search for the individual in the National Archives Catalog ( The catalog contains the names of every individual presently contained in our A-Files holdings. If you do not have access to a computer, members of our staff can aid in this process.


You can search by First Name and/or Surname OR Alien Registration Number (ex. A1234567) from the main page. 


BE AWARE: You are searching ALL of the records found in the catalog, so you will be looking for results with “Alien Case File (A-File) for [individual’s name]” as the title on the results page.


If you find a result that does not have the Alien Case File title, it is not an A-File and you will need to read the Scope and Content Note and location listed under Contact(s) to determine how to proceed.


You can also search for “Alien Case Files” from the main page.  You will open the entry with that title in the results list and can click on the “Search within this Series” button to limit your search to ONLY A-Files.


Once you click to search within the series you can then type the First Name and/or Surname OR Alien Registration Number (ex. A1234567).  The only results that populate will be A-Files.















A-File entries in the National Archives Catalog may contain:

Alien Registration number

Country of Birth

Last Name

Father’s Name

First Name

Mother’s Name


Naturalization Date

Date of Birth

Naturalization Court


Naturalization Location

Date of Entry



If you cannot find your individual in the catalog, it is because the National Archives does not currently maintain the record you are seeking.

To continue your search contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) through their Genealogy Program:


The National Archives will accession new A-Files annually, so you can also continue to check back in the catalog to see if your individual has been added to our holdings.


To learn more about requesting copies of A-Files from NARA, visit:

Passenger arrival lists are a wonderful resource for genealogists.  There are a number of useful search tricks and common errors that researchers should keep in mind to ensure success in locating an ancestor.


Passenger List Research Tips


  • TIP: If you are having trouble using name searching, but have a general idea of when and where someone may have entered the US, it can be worthwhile to browse the lists.  When browsing, it is often beneficial to read the lists from back to front because they are normally ordered based on cabin class (first, second, third). Unless you know your ancestor had the means to pay for first class, it is more common that individuals traveled third class meaning their entries would be closer to the end of the passenger list.
  • TIP: Port names are often misremembered as the name of the ship (Example: SS Bremen, Hamburg, or Rotterdam).
  • TIP: If you aren’t sure what name an individual used when entering the US, check “last residence” and “destination” columns to narrow options.
  • TIP: If an immigrant was rejected and returned from Ellis Island, check to see if they arrived approximately two weeks later at Philadelphia, Baltimore, or via a Canadian border crossing.  Ellis Island was known to be a very stringent port, and you can sometimes find immigrants who failed to pass through Ellis Island successfully entering at another location a couple weeks later.  Keep in mind that a rejection at Ellis Island was not deportation as the individual never officially entered the country, so they were readily allowed to attempt entry at another location.
  • TIP: Look for the Instructions to the Collector within the manifest forms for a given arrival as these can be a valuable tool for understanding notes that the collector may have added to entries at the time of travel.
  • TIP: Remember name variations are common.
    • Example: Scandinavians often traveled under the father’s given or middle name, or under the city/village where born.
    • Try interchanging letters:
      • a-o-ud-ntg-h (Russian)k-c
        b-v-mp (Greek)f-vi-j-yv-w


Common Misconceptions and Research Errors


  • It is FALSE that all passenger list records survive and are available for online research.  Unfortunately, for any number of reasons including fire, water, etc not every record survives.
  • It is FALSE that there is a list for every ship that arrived at a US port and that all passengers were listed.  In some cases you see that only the first cabin passengers are listed, or the list may be very clearly incomplete because it only records a handful of names for a vessel that obviously carried hundreds of passengers.
  • It is FALSE that passengers participated in creation of the lists and it is also FALSE that the lists were created at Ellis Island (or at the port of entry).  Lists of individuals purchasing tickets were kept by the ticket brokers and these lists were submitted at the port of departure where the captain created the vessel’s passenger list.  This also means that any change in name did not occur at Ellis Island, but rather at the point of ticket purchase.
  • Researchers need to be careful about any assumptions regarding ship or port, as a recounting of arrival was often many years removed from the event and it was common to confuse ship name with port of arrival or departure. 
  • Researchers also need to be careful about blanket statements that “this record is not my immigrant because the name/age/gender/date/nationality/destination/etc is wrong.”  Just as with any genealogical research, you have to come in with an open mind and look at all of the clues in context before making an assumption that a record couldn’t possibly match the person you are seeking.


Be sure to visit for more information about immigrant records at the National Archives.

October 23, 2019 - Save the date!

Seventh Annual Virtual Genealogy Fair

2019 Virtual Genealogy FairEvery year, the National Archives hosts a virtual Genealogy Fair via live webcast on YouTube. The sessions offer family history research tools on Federal records for all skill levels. Thousands of family historians participate in the live event.

As a virtual attendee, you can:

  • Attend free of charge and registration!
  • Watch the entire day on YouTube.
  • Sign up for chat during the live event. In advance, create an account on YouTube.
  • Participate with the presenters and other family historians during the live event.
  • Join us – from wherever and whenever.
  • Watch individual sessions and download the materials at your convenience -- live or after the event.


Topics include:

  • Exploring History Hub for Genealogists and Researchers
  • Preserving Personal Collections
  • Immigrant Records: More Than Just Ship Passenger Arrival Lists
  • Researching Your World War I Sailor and Marine
  • Discovering and Researching Bureau of Indian Affairs School Records
  • The Homestead Act: Land Records of Your Ancestors

Complete schedule and more information at:

1. Begin with yourself. Organize your knowledge. Fill out a five-generation ancestral chart and a family group sheet for each ancestral couple. Organize and study any family papers you have.


2. Talk about your project with your relatives. They may know information about your ancestors that you don’t know.


3. Begin your census research with the 1940 census and work your way backwards. Find all members of the extended family for a complete picture of the family. The more you know about the whole family, the easier it will be to work yourself around “brick walls.”


4. Use the clues you find in one record to help you locate other records. For example, the 1920 census might indicate your immigrant ancestor arrived in the U.S. in 1901 and naturalized in 1907. Those are good clues–but don’t expect them to be 100% accurate.


5. Census, military service, military pension, immigration, naturalization, and land records are some of the most useful Federal Records for genealogical research. Other Federal records may be useful to you depending on what relationships your ancestors had with various federal agencies. Read more on the National Archives website,


6. Birth and death records have been kept by state bureaus of vital statistics since “about” 1900. (The year that state registration began varies by state.) Contact the state archives or appropriate state agency. Birth and death records before 1900 may have been kept at county records offices.


7. Marriage, divorce, land, mortgage, tax, voter registration, and other records were kept by county records offices. Contact the appropriate office or state or county archives.


8. Libraries have local history and genealogy collections. You’ll find published records of all types, compiled genealogies, and local newspapers on microfilm.


9. Learn… then learn more…. Read books and online articles on how to do genealogical research. Join genealogical societies (national, state, and local, both where you live and where your ancestors lived). Attend your local genealogy society meetings and classes.


10. The name may not be spelled in various records as you expect it to be spelled. Be flexible. For example, Hayford might be Heyford, Hafford, Haford, Hefford, Heford, and so forth. Remember that immigrants’ first names may be in their native language, for example: John might be Jan, Ivan, Iwan, Johannes, Johann, and so forth, depending on his native language–or the native language of the person creating the record.


11. Many people had the same or similar names so don’t assume that the person is your ancestor. Distinguish between same-named people based on all the clues from all the records you find. Does it make sense? If your ancestor “always” lived in Baltimore, he probably didn’t become naturalized in Nebraska….


originally compiled by Claire Kluskens (2014)



October 24, 2018 - Save the date!

Sixth Annual Virtual Genealogy Fair

2018 Virtual Genealogy FairEvery year, the National Archives hosts a virtual Genealogy Fair via live webcast on YouTube. The sessions offer family history research tools on Federal records for all skill levels. Thousands of family historians participate in the live event.

As a virtual attendee, you can:

  • Attend free of charge and registration!
  • Watch the entire day on YouTube.
  • Sign up for chat during the live event. In advance, create an account on YouTube.
  • Participate with the presenters and other family historians during the live event.
  • Join us – from wherever and whenever.
  • Watch individual sessions and download the materials at your convenience -- live or after the event.


Complete schedule and more information at:


Have you been searching for years and wondered where can you find immigration and naturalization records for a family member that came to America? Or you finally found a single index card with name/s misspelled, or numbers printed in a corner but don't know how to find more information?  Or you found the Declaration of Intent or Petition for Naturalization, but not the Certificate of Naturalization. Where is it? Most of these records can be found at the National Archives!!


Keep in mind that immigration records to America are distinct from the naturalization process to become a legal US citizen. Some immigrants never become naturalize citizens. Plus, there are many laws that governed the naturalization process for immigrants in America during the 1800s and early 1900s, depending on whether they were head of household, spouse, or dependents.


Immigration Records at the National Archives:

Introduction · Immigration · Passenger Lists · Border Crossings Canada · Border Crossings Mexico


Naturalization Records at the National Archives:

Naturalization Intro, Process, Record Locations · Women · United States Customs Immigration Service

US Customs Service Records 1820-1891 · Records of the INS, 1891-1957 · FAQs


Most of the immigration and naturalization records have been microfilmed. Many copies of the microfilm are available at NARA's regional locations, so please check the location to see if one is near your home. It is also likely that many of the microfilm publications have been digitized and released on either or The microfilm will be listed by title of the microfilm publication in the catalog, click on the publication title, then search for the ancestor. Original naturalization certificates were less likely to be microfilmed or digitized. Naturalization court records are located in state archives where the individual was naturalized or at National Archives regional locations that serve that area. Use this link and go to the bottom of the page to see potential naturalization record locations.

On Wednesday October 25, the National Archives will host the fifth virtual Genealogy Fair via webcast.  The entire schedule is available at National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair.  In Session 5, at 2:00pm, staff from the Electronic Records Division, John LeGloahec and Jana Leighton, will present on "Locating the Relocated: Deciphering Electronic Records on Japanese Americans Interned During World War II.


During this presentation, John and Jana will provide guidance on how to search National Archives Access to Archival Databases (AAD) as well as how to find information on digitized textual records in the National Archives Catalog. We will also demonstrate how to use the information in both systems to get a more complete picture of our holdings of Japanese American internee records.


John LeGloahec will explore how to use the Records About Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II, available through AAD. This set of records has become a popular genealogical tool that identifies Japanese Americans interned in several War Relocation Authority camps. Jana Leighton will discuss genealogical information and the availability of records for download from the National Archives Catalog located within two series of Record Group 210: Records of the War Relocation Authority.


On October 15, "Today's Document from the National Archives" was a photo from the Granada Relocation Center in Amache, Colorado, which was closed on October 15, 1945.  Jana and John hope that you will tune in to hear about the Records of the WRA and the impact on Japanese Americans during World War II.