Researchers often request records for immigrants who were processed at the Angel Island Immigration Station. But the immigration history at the San Francisco port, and its associated records, spanned beyond the operational years at Angel Island (1910-1940) and will include documents that date as far back as 1884 and as recent as 1956.
As noted in the discussion on the Honolulu INS Office Records, prior to the creation of Alien files (A-files) in 1944, each immigration office set up their own elaborate records-keeping system. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office in San Francisco was no different.
Due to the 1940 fire on Angel Island, only a portion of the records have survived. But the files that remain show how the SF INS filing system evolved over time as immigration officials attempted to adapt to local conditions and legal requirements.
Until 1912, immigration officers in San Francisco maintained a simpler filing system to track the movement of individuals through their port. Though most investigative cases tracked those of Chinese descent, officials maintained one filing system to document all arrivals detained at the SF port, regardless of race or ethnicity. Arrival case files were based on the incoming ship manifests and form the arrangement of the Immigration Arrival Investigation Case Files, 1884–1944 (NAID 296445).
The bulk of the arrival cases document individuals of Chinese descent, especially files dated from late 1800s to the early 1900s. But by the 1910s, as laws further restricted immigration from Asia and the Pacific, and by 1924, migration from Europe and other parts of the Americas, arrival files began to include individuals of non-Chinese ancestry.
But for U.S. residents of Chinese descent, exclusionary laws made traveling abroad difficult. In order to facilitate readmission at any U.S. port, applicants submitted requests for pre-investigations prior to departure. Since different return certificates were issued according to an individual’s citizenship or residency status, these early return case files were separated according to the following assigned prefix numbers:
● Chinese Americans (9170) (NAID 1573271)
● Chinese Laborers (9180) (NAID 1573279)
● Chinese Merchants, Students, Teachers and Clergy (9190) (NAID 1573287)
Pre-investigation Form 432 for Chin, Hing Hie from case file 9180/0747 (file unit NAID 117695278).
Whereas return case files included both approved and denied applications, SF officials separately tracked those who actually departed. These departure files were based on the departing ship manifests, starting with the ship prefix number 11505 and ending with 12499 files (NAID 1566759).
From 1912 until 1944, departure applications were combined into the 12017 series for all return applications (NAID 296477). This later set of records was part of the SF INS office’s revised “12,000” filing classification that may have included up to 50 record series at one point. Although researchers may come across these “12,000” file numbers referenced in other immigration case files, only seven series have survived:
● Applications by U.S. citizens for their foreign-born dependents (12023) (NAID 44165486)
● Investigations Not Resulting in Warrant Proceedings (12016) (NAID 296429)
● Deportation Investigations (12020) (NAID 1566705)
● Passport Applications (12034) (NAID 44165485)
● Voluntary Deportations (12039) (NAID 4658054)
● Enemy Alien Deportation (12044) (NAID 43434825)
From 1944 to 1954
Each INS office continued to maintain their own records-keeping system until the mid-1950s. By this time, the INS developed a uniform system for all Districts to eliminate confusion when files were loaned between Districts (which happened quite often). File numbers for this period are composed of the district and office number, followed by the individual case number.
The San Francisco office (District 13) was the district headquarters for INS offices in Honolulu and in Northern California. While the Honolulu office eventually became its own headquarters (see Honolulu office blog), immigration offices in Northern California were all assigned to District 13 with their own sub-office number:
● San Francisco District Office (1300) (NAID 1566751)
● Fresno Sub-Office (1301) (NAID 4658049)
● Oakland Sub-Office (1303) (NAID 4658050)
● Sacramento Sub-Office (1305) (NAID 4658051)
● Stockton Sub-Office (1307) (NAID 4658052)
● Salinas Sub-Office (1308) (NAID 4658053)
Case file 1300/62400 (part of series NAID 1566751) document the deportation proceedings for members of the Kudo family, a Japanese Peruvian family who were forcibly deported to the US and interned at Chrystal City.
These are just a sampling of the San Francisco office immigration records and are held at the National Archives (NARA) at San Francisco. You may access the complete list of series on the National Archives Catalog.
How to locate individual case files
Some records are indexed and name searchable from the National Archives Catalog. A few catalog records are even available online.
If you cannot locate an individual from the catalog, NARA staff can conduct a search in the microfilm rolls for the INS-San Francisco General Index to immigration case files, which is only available onsite. Though this set of microfilm is incomplete and is missing entire sets of surnames, it is still a useful place to start one’s search. When contacting our staff, please provide the following:
• Name of the individual (including all name variants). What is most helpful here is how the name would have been written by immigration authorities and on other legal documents.
• Date of birth (specific or approximate)
• Date of entry. This may be helpful in locating a manifest which might lead to a file number (see below).
• Names of family members and their dates of birth. If we cannot locate your specific individual, we may be able to locate an associated file that may offer clues. Cross-reference sheets are a great way to identify additional files of family members and even witnesses (friends, business associates and other individuals accompanying on trips).
As noted above, the arrival case numbering structure was based on the ship manifest numbers. While the index to the arrival case files has only a partial listing in the catalog, researchers can construct potential case numbers based on registers and ship manifests. Using an alternative method to locate file numbers is incredibly helpful considering that the arrival cases (NAID 296445) constitute the largest number of files from the SF office and is referenced most frequently.
For arrivals before 1913, the file number is based on a two-digit case number, starting with the four- or five-digit ship manifest number and the ticket number. Researchers should use microfilm publication M1476, Lists of Chinese Applying… Through the Port of San Francisco (NAID 4482916) to identify early arrival case numbers. This microfilm publication has been digitized in full and is available on our Catalog.
For those arriving at the SF port on the vessel, Korea, on September 12, 1907, case numbers would begin with 10206, followed by the ticket or certificate number. For Lung Kee, his arrival file number is 10206/54, which has been digitized and is available online (file unit NAID 28804257)
While the above register is also helpful for post-1913 arrivals, for arrivals from 1913 to 1943, researchers may also search in available passenger lists to compose potential file numbers. These later cases are based on a three-digit case number, starting with the five-digit ship manifest number (usually located in the upper right- or left-hand corners), the page number (also referred to as list number) and the line number next to the person’s name.
To construct the file number for Karoon Kengradomging, start with the ship manifest number in the upper left-hand corner (41235), add the page (or list) number (5), and end with the line number (1). The arrival case becomes 41235/005-01, which has not yet been indexed in the catalog but is available for research.
Researchers should also keep in mind that locating files for individuals will depend on when they last arrived or departed the United States, or last interacted with an immigration office. Because case numbers were updated for subsequent travels to and from the U.S. and previous documents may have been consolidated with later case files, researchers may need to locate additional passenger lists in order to identify more recent case numbers.
If staff cannot locate an immigration file, these records may have been consolidated into the all-encompassing A-file.