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Genealogy

2 Posts authored by: Elizabeth Burnes Expert

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 Files from other series, such as visa files, were withdrawn and placed in the A-Files when cases were reopened in instances such as the filing of applications to replace a document, obtain a border crossing card, or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 (https://catalog.archives.gov/). 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

Alias

Naturalization Date

Date of Birth

Naturalization Court

Sex

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: www.uscis.gov/genealogy.

 

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: https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens

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-pe-ih-chm-n
        b-v-mp (Greek)f-vi-j-yv-w
        c-kg-i-yi-ois-cs-z-tx-tz

         

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 https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration for more information about immigrant records at the National Archives.