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With the declaration of war on April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on residents in the United States, citizen and immigrant alike, to loyally uphold all laws and to support all measures adopted in order to protect the nation and secure peace. For individuals termed “alien enemies” (all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of Germany and its allies including American-born women who married German men), showing loyalty required a number of additional parameters and processes.

Wilson’s declaration of war included twelve regulations that restricted the conduct of alien enemies in the United States. Broadly, the regulations barred owning firearms, established a permit process to reside/work in areas deemed as restricted zones or to depart the United States, and laid out policies regarding threats and attacks against the United States, along with condemning all aid to the enemy.

Significantly, Regulation 12 stated that “an alien enemy whom there may be reasonable cause to believe to be aiding or about to aid the enemy . . . or violates any regulation promulgated by the President . . . will be subject to summary arrest . . . and to confinement in such penitentiary, prison, jail, or military camp.” The War Department established war prison barracks at Fort Oglethorpe, GA; Fort McPherson, GA; and Fort Douglas, UT.

Records related to World War I enemy alien internments were created by several different Federal agencies, including:

 

General Records of the Department of Justice (Record Group 60)

 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) was the agency responsible for determining which aliens should be interned. The “Alien Enemy Index, 1917-1919” (NAID 602456) contains alphabetically-arranged index cards that give each alien’s name, subject matter, judicial district, and related file number. The “9” on these index cards points to files in “Class 9 (European War Matters) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures, 1914–1961” (NAID 599528). These files provide a complete history from the alien’s arrest to their release or deportation.

 

General Records of the Department of State (Record Group 59)

 

If the National Alien Enemy Relief Committee based in Washington, DC - or the Swiss government - took an interest in a particular alien’s case, some records in an alien’s Department of Justice Class 9 file may be copies of correspondence with the Department of State. (Note: Since the war ended diplomatic relations with the German government, the Swiss Embassy looked after the interests of enemy aliens.) This correspondence usually includes the relevant file number from the Department of State’s “Central Decimal Files, 1910-1963” (NAID 302021). However, to ensure all relevant records are located, the “Name Index, 1910-1973” (NAID 581008) should be searched.

 

Records of the Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 407)

 

The Adjutant General’s Office created numerous records documenting the War Department’s operation of the internment camps. “Descriptive Enemy Cards, 1914-1919” (NAID 7513259) give each internee’s physical description. The “201 Files, 1918-1920” (also known as World War I Prisons and Prisoners: Prisoners of War and Alien Enemies in the U.S.) (NAID 7933768) contain correspondence from or about prisoners. “Correspondence Relating to Personal Property, 1917-1921” (NAID 7933769) includes receipts for property surrendered upon internment.

 

Records of the Office of Alien Property (Record Group 131)

 

The Trading with the Enemy Act (40 Stat. 411) allowed the Federal Government to seize, administer, and sell alien-controlled property under certain circumstances. Records created by the Office of Alien Property include “Records of Interned Aliens, 1917-1918” (NAID 7381637); “Records of Investigation, 1917-1921” (NAID 7373130); “Trust Files, 1917-1934” (NAID 6879970); and other records that identify aliens and their property.

 

Records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21)

 

United States District Court records also have material about detained aliens, such as “Case Files on Detained Enemy Aliens, 1917-1919” (NAID 17408476) from the U.S. District Court for the Western (Cincinnati) Division of the Southern District of Ohio.

 

Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Record Group 85)

 

The administration of the internment camp at Hot Springs, NC, is detailed in the series “General Subject Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5106146); “Accounting Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5111263); and “Correspondence of the Inspector in Charge of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina, with the Secretary of Labor (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5106167). Additional records of internment can be found within the “Subject and Policy Files, 1906-1957” (NAID 559947).

 

To learn more about additional World War I enemy alien records at the National Archives, visit https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens.

The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required that each alien living within U.S. borders go to their local post office and register their alien status with the government during a four month period ending in December of 1940. The registration process included a questionnaire form and a requirement that fingerprints be taken at the time of registration (certain exclusions applied for diplomats, employees of foreign governments, and children under the age of 14). 

 

The Alien Registration Form (Form AR-2) contained fifteen questions including when and where the subject was born, when and where they entered the United States, a physical description, and inquiries about employment, organization memberships, prior military service, criminal record, and attempts to obtain naturalization in the United States. As the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) received the forms, an Alien Registration Number was assigned (ex. A1 234 567) and an Alien Registration Receipt Card containing this number was mailed to each registrant as proof of alien status.

 


Alien Registration Form (AR-2) from the Alien Case File for Victor Hinkelman (A2427853). Record Group 566, Records of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alien Case Files, 1944-2003. National Archives Identifier 5230784, National Archives at Kansas City.

 

Promotion of the Alien Registration Act primarily came through a series of radio public service announcements (PSAs) given by various government officials that cited participation in registration as supporting democracy and called on Americans to aid their alien neighbors in completing the registration process. A number of officials of foreign descent spoke to audiences of specific nationalities in their native tongue (i.e., German, Italian, Polish, etc.) in order to ease fears about the registration restricting or violating an alien’s rights. To bolster support, newspapers across the country captured numerous photographs of actors and musicians completing various components of the registration process. 

 

Government officials expected a few million registrations to occur, but final counts saw over five million registration forms submitted.

 

 

Director Henry Koster and actress Anna Lee fill out the Alien Registration Form, 1940.

Photograph courtesy of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Historical Office and Library.

 

Beginning in April 1944, many of the Alien Registration Forms found a home in a new series of INS files, the Alien Files (A-Files), which were created utilizing the numbers assigned to each individual during the 1940 registration. The files were established as a means of tracking an alien’s experience as they moved through the immigration and inspection process within the United States up to the point of any final action which could include death, deportation, permanent resident status, or citizenship; and the Alien Registration Form was often the first form transferred into the file. 

 

Alien Registration Forms are available for research at the National Archives within A-Files. To learn more about the A-Files and the record request process please visit: http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens/.

When you are researching immigrants during the Civil War time period, Record Group 110 (RG 110), Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War), may be a good source of information. For the most part, RG 110 records about aliens are lists related to enlistment and exemption of alien residents. And you need to keep in mind that the states covered and types of lists available will vary.

This post will share three examples of RG 110 records available in Kansas City as a means of conveying the kinds of documents you may find across the National Archives.

 

The first series we will look at is “Lists of Aliens Residing in Various Counties, 1861-1866,” which were created in Iowa. The information recorded includes the name of the county, the townships included in the county, and the names of the aliens residing in each. The lists are arranged alphabetically by county, and there is no name index. This means researchers need to talk directly to archives staff to search within the records. Locating a name in these lists indicates that the individual had not yet obtained U.S. citizenship at the time the list was created.

 

An interesting side note: occasionally during the Civil War time period, Federal courts also kept registers of aliens. For example, the court for Detroit, MI, (whose records are maintained at the National Archives at Chicago) kept Registers of Aliens from 1837-1906.

 

Exemption lists are another good source of information about aliens during the Civil War time period. The series “Exemption Lists and Related Papers, 1863-1865,” from Missouri includes certificates of exemption and also lists of men exempt from service, which detail the individual’s county; township; name; and cause for exemption, which may include alien status. As with the lists from Iowa, there is no name index so researchers must contact archives staff to search within the records.

Here is an example of an exemption record. You can see in this record we find out: “I, Henry Eilert, do upon oath declare that I am an alien and a subject of the King of Hanover, that I immigrated to the United States in the year eighteen hundred and fifty seven and that I have been living since that time in the State of Missouri, that I have never declared my intention to become a citizen of the United States and that I have never exercised the right of suffrage at an election whatever…

 

From just that one sentence we have gained information about his nationality, entry into the United States, residence while in the United States, that he was not a voter in the United States, and that as of the date of this document he had not pursued naturalization.

 

Now we will compare the above exemption record to another found within the Kansas City RG 110 holdings.

 

The series “List of Arrested Persons and Deserters, 1863,” from Iowa’s 3rd District includes a list of men exempted from the draft. The information recorded includes name and reason for exemption, such as alien. Luckily, there is an index for this series, but the name index is only in the physical volume – there are no online finding aids available.


You can see that the amount of information recorded in this exemption record is significantly less than Henry Eilert’s, discussed above. As a researcher you cannot discount these kinds of records though – they may not illuminate additional information about the family, but they are a proof of an action in that ancestor’s life, and there is value in that.

 

The three series discussed are a small sampling of the variety of RG 110 records available at the National Archives. In Kansas City there are a significant number of consolidated lists and registers from Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska that contain mentions of aliens. Additionally, RG 110 records are available at the National Archives offices in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Fort Worth, Denver, Seattle, Boston, New York, and Chicago – though the quantity and types of records will vary by location. See the websites for our National Archives locations for a reminder of which states each office potentially covers.

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

 

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 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: https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/visa-records.

 

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 (https://www.uscis.gov/genealogy).  Transfer of A-Files to NARA for permanent retention has begun.  For more information on A-Files at NARA visit: https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens.

 

*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: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5752154.

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, United States naturalization law imposed a fee structure that encouraged the transfer of naturalization to 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 new citizen. 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, after September 26, 1906, one forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Certificates of citizenship were issued by the Federal courts until October 1991 when naturalization became an administrative function under the INS.

 

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 (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.

IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION RECORDS

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 Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. 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.