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.