04 March 2014

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services History and Genealogy Program

I recently saw a post on Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to Hold Online Webinars. One of the link in his blog goes to the USCIS History and Genealogy Program. The program is a fee-based service providing family historians and other researchers with timely and accurate access to historical immigration and naturalization records.

I was surprised to find the the quality of records that are available through this website and I thought I would talk about the different types of records and what information they may contain. The USCIS has made five different sets of records available.

A-File example data includes: Post-WW II War Bride visas, Petitions for Relative Visas, AR-2 Registration Forms, Enemy Alien in World War II records, Consolidated A-Files report, Refugee Documents, Change of Address Cards, Application for Naturalization files, or duplicate of Certificate of Naturalization. A-File content is as unique as the individual it represents.  They may have only a few pages or contain 100’s of pages in multiple folders. A-File content depends on the history of interaction between the immigrant and the agency.

AR2 example data includes: Answers to questions about the registrants name, present address, date of birth, place of birth, the port, date and ship of arrival, dates for first and last arrival, usual occupation, present occupation, name and address of employer, membership in any organization in the last five years, prior military service, if they have ever filed first papers for naturalization, criminal record including police and court records, and their mark or signature. Requests for AR-2 Forms must include the A-number.  Researchers may find A-numbers on index cards to court naturalization records after 1941, on original alien registration receipt cards, or other of the immigrant’s personal papers.  If the immigrant registered as an alien in 1940 their A-number can be learned from an Index Search request.

C-Files example data includes: The immigrant’s name, date and place of birth, and port, date of arrival, names of spouse and children, occupation, and place of residence when naturalized. Declarations of Intention and Naturalization Certificates issued after July 1, 1929, also include a picture of the petitioner. Certificate Files, or C-Files, document naturalizations and contain copies of records evidencing the Granting of naturalized U.S. citizenship by courts between from 1906 to 1956; and the Issuance of Certificates of Citizenship to those who derived or resumed U.S. citizenship.

Registry Files example data include:  extensive biographical information, including the full and maiden names of both parents, details about the applicant’s arrival in the US, and specific data on their employment and residential history in the US. To prove residence in the US prior to July 1, 1924, some Registry applicants submitted employment records, character references from friends or employers, sworn affidavits from friends, neighbors, or co-workers; bank account or financial records, church records, and police or criminal background check records. The applicant’s eligibility was summarized in a “Findings” document recommending the application be granted or denied. The final document is a decision showing the application was granted or denied.

Visa Files example data include: Files for every immigrant admitted for permanent US residence between July 1, 1924 and March 31, 1944. The files consist of:
  • a large application document and all required documents submitted to support the application. Visa application form contains all information found on a ship manifest of the same date, as well as additional data.  Included are the names of any minor children, the full and maiden names of both parents, and listing of all official documents attached or shown to the US Consul prior to issuance of the visa. the back of the visa application form summarizes the facts of the Immigrant’s arrival (port, date, ship), whether admitted on primary inspection or by a Board of Special Inquiry (BSI), and whether the BSI decision was appealed to Washington.
  • a required certified copy of the immigrant’s birth certificate. If an official document was unavailable, the file will include an affidavit or some other substitute birth record.
  • a required health certificate showing the immigrant was free from contagious disease or any disability that would hinder their ability to make a living in the US. 
  • a criminal background check record from their home country.  These may be called “police certificates” or “morality certificates” or some other name depending on the country and date.
  • for men of military service age, especially if their home country required military service before emigration, will include a certificate of military service.

How to Make a Request
Requests may be submitted online using a credit card or by mail using a money order or cashier’s check. To make an online request, visit  “Make a Genealogy Request”. Please be sure to read all of the instructions before submitting a request. Send questions and comments to Genealogy.USCIS@dhs.gov or leave a toll-free voice message at 1-866-259-2349.

The USCIS Genealogy Program offers two services:
  1. Index Search - $20 - Using biographical information provided by the researcher, USCIS searches its historical immigration and naturalization record indices for citations related to a specific immigrant. The search results (record citations) are returned to the researcher, along with instructions on how to request the file(s) from USCIS, the National Archives, or local courts. To make an Index Search Request you will need to provide at least the following information about your immigrant ancestor: Name (aliases, maiden, and variations) and the Date and Country of birth (actual or estimated). You will also be asked to provide optional information, such as date of arrival in the US and places of residence. While this information is not required it is often essential for locating the correct index entries.
  2. Record Copy Request - $20 microfilm, $35 hard copy - Researchers, with valid USCIS file number, may request copies of historical immigration and naturalization records. The program can only fulfill record requests that include a valid file number, such as a naturalization certificate number. If you do not have a file number, or you are unsure whether or not USCIS maintains a file for your ancestor, please submit an index search request.