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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.

October 10 was Electronic Records Day (1010 - data is all made up of zeroes and ones, get it?) and two reference staff members from the Electronic Records Division posted a blog post on the "Pieces of History" blog.  We hope that you enjoy it.


John LeGloahec: I joined the National Archives in June of 2006 as an archives specialist in the Electronic Records Division, working on processing the electronic records of the federal government.

One day, I received a message from a researcher asking about some of our records, the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Records (National Archives Identifier 570981). I spoke with a member of the reference staff, and she told me to go ahead and answer it. I was immediately bit with the reference bug. Within a few years, I had started spending half my time working on reference requests.

A technician changes the tape on a data processing machine at Gorgas Army Hospital, 5/9/1983. (National Archives Identifier 6374580)


Emily Graves: I joined the National Archives in December 2016 in my current role, as an archives technician in the reference section of the Electronic Records Division.

I’ve always had a love for electronic records since my first days of graduate school. It’s easy to confuse “electronic” and “digital” as synonyms, but in reality, electronic media has been around for a long time. In fact, the federal government has been generating electronic records since the first agencies made use of early computer prototypes in the 1950s. As a result, the range of electronic records in the custody of NARA is quite rich and varied. As someone working with access and reference, it’s always fun to watch researchers realize this and see all the valuable information our records can yield.

John LeGloahec: After I had been at the Archives for about four years, I became a full-time member of the reference team. I started out answering the “routine” requests: “I’m looking for my service records,” “my father was killed in Vietnam,” etc.  I soon graduated to the more complex requests, dealing with specific data files in the custody of the Electronic Records Division.

NARA’s Access to Archival Databases—the first stop for many electronic records researchers. (

Emily Graves: As a newcomer, a lot of what I’ve had to learn is the lay of the land—what systems are our records going into to preserve them? To provide access? To track them? Part of my job is to be able to use and understand these systems, which have grown up in the landscape over the course of years and are all inter-related.

For example, I had a researcher inquire about the Area Resource Files from the Department of Health and Human Services, which contain county-based information on a variety of health-related variables. The researcher wanted to know how far back in time the variables went—and this turned out not to be an easy question! After confirming the dates in the National Archives Catalog, I had to use two other finding aids, as well as look at the paper documentation, to confirm that only some the variables had data that went all the way back to the 1940s.

John LeGloahec: The next step in my evolution as a reference archivist was to begin assisting researchers with reproduction orders, wherein researchers would request that copies be made of specific files in our custody.

During this time, we also began to see a spike in requests regarding the records of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (National Archives Identifier 2456161).  The housing bubble had recently burst, and researchers were looking for answers in the historical record of previous mortgage applications.

Over the next few years, the Division fulfilled several orders for the HMDA data files.  Around the same time, the National Archives Catalog was being revised and files were being uploaded directly into the catalog for researchers to download directly—the Division worked on making these files available for download—lessening the number of orders that Division had to fulfill.

The ordering process has also evolved during my time with the Division.  Where we would normally get between 30 to 50 orders for files, the number has declined with the advent of files available directly from the Catalog.  In addition, within the past few years, the National Archives created an “e-delivery system” where files are uploaded directly into the “cloud” for researchers to access via a secure link.  This has greatly assisted researchers who cannot easily travel to the National Archives, specifically international researchers (and we don’t have to fill out those exhaustive customs forms any longer!).

The National Archives Catalog home page (

Emily Graves: In a lot ways, reference for electronic records is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes the answer is obscured in the history of the records, the documentation accompanying the records, or sometimes it’s obscured in the data itself. We have a lot of tools to get to the X on the map, and learning how to use those tools most effectively is how I’ve begun in this position.

John LeGloahec: As a full-time member of the Electronic Records Reference Branch, my work still revolves around answering reference requests, but I spend a lot of my time working on preparing files for the National Archives Catalog, either through a “metadata prep” process or through the “auto-upload” process, where files (primarily .pdf files) are batch ingested into the catalog for direct download.

I use to say that I wouldn’t be happy working with electronic records—but now that I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years, I really enjoy my work and am always learning something new.  Sometimes the process just needs some tweaking—there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, but sometimes you need to put new tires on that wheel.

On Thursday March 23 at 2:00pm, John LeGloahec, a staff member from the Electronic Records Division, will offer a Know Your records presentation on "Dead Men (and Women) Sometimes do tell Tales: “Death Records from the Numerical Identification System” for Genealogical Research."  The presentation will be broadcast from the William G. McGowan Theater in the National Archives building in Washington DC and also available on the NARA YouTube channel.


The Numerical Identification Files, or NUMIDENT (National Archives Identifier 12004494), were transferred to the National Archives from the Social Security Administration and were made available for searching on NARA's Access to Archival Databases (AAD), because they are helpful to genealogists as these files contain names, birth, and death dates of deceased social security holders.  The NUMIDENT files are separated into three sets of records:

  • Death Records (National Archives Identifier 23845618)
  • Application (SS-5) Files (National Archives Identifier 23845613)
  • Claim Files (National Archives Identifier 23852747)

There is overlap between the three sets, in that a record for an individual may appear in one, two, or all three sets of records. The series contains records for every social security number (SSN) assigned to individuals with a verified death or who would have been over 110 years old by December 31, 2007. There are 49,459,293 death records in NUMIDENT covering the time period 1936 through 2007. When the records were transferred to the National Archives, there were twenty separate files, which were merged into nine files arranged by last name. At this time, only the Death Records are available for searching on AAD, but we are in the process of making the other two sets of records available in the near future.

32-3462a.gifIf you are interested in why Lyndon Johnson isn't in the NUMIDENT Death Records, but Gerald Ford is - or find out if Elvis is really dead, tune in Thursday March 23 for this KYR Presentation!B1865-20_a.jpg

     On its face, it seems like a good idea: devise a system that consolidates different spellings

     of names to facilitate ease of searching.


     Here is the National Archives' take on it: Soundex System | National Archives


     Did you know the system was patented?


                                     Patent 1,261,167 for Soundex System, 1918.bmp



     Here is a circa 1954 brochure from Remington-Rand, touting its Soundex system:


           Know a Man Named Burke, from Soundex Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg


           Pages from Soundex Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg


     The Immigration and Naturalization Service used the Soundex;

     here is its catalog (also from the brochure)


         INS Office with Soundex System, from Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg:

           from RG 64, P 169, file "Policy - Referral of Letters to INS, 1954" (in NAID 23812735)



    So how do you like using the Soundex?

Ellis Island Processing:  The Case of Nanny [Fanny] Knowles

USCIS History and Genealogy “Your Questions” Webinar

Friday March 25, 2016, 1:00 pm Eastern

A researcher submitted questions about a passenger list documenting Fanny Knowles arrival, hearing, and admission at Ellis Island in 1919.  Thirteen year-old Fanny was excluded as an unaccompanied minor, despite the fact she traveled with her adult sister Edith, who was a US citizen.  How were families processed when some were citizens and some were aliens?  Was Fanny really “alone?”  What resources exist to help explain more about Ellis Island (or other US port of entry) processing?  These and other questions will be discussed and explored in the USCIS “Your Questions” webinar presentation on March 25th, 2016.

Note: this web meeting is not recorded, so be sure to join us live

USCIS is now using Adobe Connect to deliver webinars. If you have never attended an Adobe Connect meeting before:

** Send myself a reminder on this webinar.** - Send myself an email with details and the meeting link


Click the button below at 1 pm Eastern on March 25, 2016 to enter the meeting room


Do I have to register for the live webinar?No, pre-registration is not required. From our webinar page click the “Attend Session” button which takes you to the door of a virtual meeting room. Enter your name and email to join the meeting, then follow instructions to call the toll-free phone number for audio. If you have not attended before, be sure to join early so the program has time to load. For more information please see our webinar schedule page.


Do you have an immigration and naturalization research question?

  • Next “Your Questions” Webinar is Friday, May 27, 2016 1:00 PM (Eastern)
  • Submissions due by May 6, 2016

Submit your question via email to with the subject line "Your Questions Webinar.” When doing so, remember:

  • If your question relates to a document you found, attach a copy of the document to the email.
  • Documents submitted with questions may be shared and discussed during the live webinar. Please do not send large or extensive files.
  • Questions must be received at least two weeks prior to the next scheduled session to be included in that session.
  • Multiple questions on the same topic may be grouped together to facilitate presentation of a response.
  • To ensure the hour is of interest to the widest audience, questions answered will be those most commonly asked or that generate the most useful answers.

*US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “Your Questions” Webinar provides educational responses to record and research questions submitted by genealogical and historical researchers. The presenter is Marian L. Smith and the program focuses on historical immigration and nationality records created by the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

   The ubiquitous microfilm reel: National Archives facilities nationwide are chock full of 'em!


                                   NARA Microfilm Box and Reel Popping Out.jpg


   Where did they all come from? Well, here's the story:


   Our infant agency immediately saw the possibilities for this technology. A division for photographic

   reproduction of records was one of the first priorities when the National Archives was established,

   and microfilming was going to be a big part of its job from the get-go.


                    RG 64, P 67, file 1936 - Washington Star, March 1, 1936 Article.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1936"


                                         64-NA-189 Microfilm Camera, 1937.jpg                 

                                             NAID 12168564

                                          Copying of issues of The Washington Post with microfilm camera,

                                                     Division of Photographic Archives and Research, 1937



    Dr. Vernon D. Tate was appointed Chief of the Division of Photographic Archives and Research.

    In addition to his duties at the Archives, he traveled widely, evangelizing on the benefits of microphotography:

    reducing storage for bulky paper documents and promoting wider use of the records via their conveniently

    pint-sized proxies.


                                       64-NA-485B Vernon D. Tate, 1946 - Cropped.JPG

                                          NAID 18519945

                                                                       Dr. Vernon D. Tate, 1946



   The work of the division was featured in an article in the July 1938 issue of the new magazine Popular Photography:


           Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 16.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 17.jpg


                                                               Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 91.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 92.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1938"



   At the Archives, staff were making use of microfilm copies in their work. In this 1940 photo,

   Mary Vance Wilson of the Division of Research and Publications is copying information from a reel.


                            64-NA-362 Copying Info from Microfilm, 1940.JPG

                              NAID 12168960



   As World War II descended, the military services were establishing and expanding their microfilming programs.

   Perhaps the best-known of these was V-Mail.


                           111-SC-164865 - V-Mail Tableau.jpg

                              111-SC-164865, from NAID 530707



   During the war, Dr. Tate transferred to the Department of the Navy to help get its microphotography program

   off the ways.


                            64-NA-387 Microfilming Project of the Navy Dept. 1942.jpg

                               NAID 12169006

                                Workers examining microfilm for defects in the Navy's Microphotographic Section.

                                      John E. Lown, assistant chief of the section (in bow tie), looks on. 1942



   Meanwhile, the National Archives had established the File Microcopy program in 1940, by which select records

   of high research value would be microfilmed and sold to institutions and the public. This transformed into the

   Microfilm Publications program in the early 1950s, which continues to the present day.



                     NAID 18519863



                 RG 64, P 74 - List of File Microcopies, 1950 - Cover.jpg   NARA Microfilm Publication M1920.jpg



    Here is an illustration of just how much space could be saved with microfilming. All of the oversize glass negatives

    pictured here were copied onto the reel that Ms. Cahoon is holding:


                           64-NA-2203 Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm, 1963 - compressed.jpg

                             NAID 12170484

                                                       Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm in Photo Lab, 1963



    But as great as microfilm is, it still has its problems.

    Raise your hand if you've ever said "I can't read it; it's too faded!"


                                       RG 64, P 79, file General Reference - Complaint About 1830 Census Microfilm, 1957.jpg

                                          NAID 7788317, file "General Reference"



    And don't you love it when some nincompoop has wound the reel backwards? Grrr....


    And it deteriorates.


   But now there is stable polyester base film that will last decades, if not longer. And just in time to digitize it!


   But wait, are you up for going microfiche-ing, too?


                       NARA Microfiche for RG 75, fiche 2.jpg


    Yeah, me neither.




    Here is information on how to  Request and Order Reproductions. from the National Archives.

As the National Capital region continues to dig out from two feet (or thereabouts) of snow, it's a good time to reflect on the genealogical uses of Record Group 27, Records of the Weather Bureau.


Our farm family ancestors kept close watch of the weather and it certainly affected their economic well-being much more than it does us city dwellers. Today, only 2% of the U.S. population are farm families; in 1790, they comprised at least 90%.


While the Weather Bureau was not established until 1890, the federal government's interest in collecting weather information dates back to the 1810s, when army hospital, post, and regimental surgeons were directed to keep diaries of the weather. These duties were transferred in 1870 to officers reporting to the Chief Signal Officer. Meanwhile, from 1847 to 1870, the Smithsonian Institution collected data from voluntary observers throughout the country. All of these observations are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication T907, Climatological Records of the Weather Bureau, 1819-1892 (562 rolls), which is not online.


Information about weather can be useful background information that puts flesh on the bones of those ancestors. What was the weather like on the day your ancestor was born? Married? Died? Or at some other point his or her life? You may not find an answer for your precise location, but a nearby one might be close enough. One of my grandfathers was born in November 1888, but his birth was not recorded until the spring of 1889. One suspects weather had something to do with it - even though the winter of 1888-89 was not as epic as that of January-March 1888


Our retired colleagues, Constance Potter and Kenneth Heger, used to give a lecture called "Stormy Weather" that was all about the genealogical uses of weather information from federal records. Connie presents some of that information in De Smet, Dakota Territory, Little Town in the National Archives, Part 2.


The year 1816 was known as "1800 and Froze to Death" (as well as "The Year without any Summer" and other appellations). It was a year when there was frost or snow in nearly every month, and farmers planted crops two and three times only to see them die. Many farm families from the northern United States moved west in 1817 in hopes of a better future.


in 2005, Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands from New Orleans, Louisiana, with many never to return.


Weather matters.


In addition to T907, other useful federal records are:


Nonfederal sources of information include articles in newspapers in the area where your ancestors lived. For example, the Columbus, Ohio, Statesman of February 15, 1842 reprinted a news item from the Cleveland Herald that described a "Terrible Tornado" in Mayfield, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio, that caused considerable damage. More than 30 people with their losses ("house unroofed," "barn unroofed," "barn demolished," etc.) are mentioned. Local newspapers may be available on microfilm at local public libraries, or in online databases such as and


May the sun always shine on your genealogical research!