15 June 2008
On 15 May, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the creation of a new fee-for-service genealogy program. The new program will take effect 13 August2008, and will streamline requests for historical records that are important to genealogical researchers. Files of deceased persons are defined by USCIS as historical records.
Currently, genealogists must use a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act (FOIA/PA) request to obtain the records, waiting many months for the processing of requests. The FOIA/PA program will continue for files of living persons. The biggest advantage of this new program will be the establishment of a knowledgeable staff dedicated to filling genealogy and historical requests. This will greatly improve turnaround time and will provide researchers with contact persons in case of problems.
The records under the new genealogy program are:
Will this new program affect your genealogy research? Before you answer "no" too quickly, take a closer look at your research. Some of the records impacted by the new program can be obtained elsewhere. For instance, copies of naturalization records can also be found at local courthouses and archives. But other records in the program, such as as alien registrations, would be difficult to find anywhere else.
On 28 June 1940, the Alien Registration Act of 1940 (Smith Act) was passed. This Act required registration of all aliens in the U.S. 14 years of age and older. This included those that had filed first papers for naturalization but had not completed the process. Five million aliens registered in the initial registration that took four months. This was about 1.5 million more than expected because there were many aliens who had immigrated as early as 1880, but who had never naturalized. There are several situations that suggest that an alien registration record may exist for an individual. First, if a naturalization has not been found for an ancestor who was alive in 1940, they might never have naturalized. Therefore, there will be an alien registration for that ancestor.
Second, when an ancestor's naturalization record is dated in the 1940's. After the Smith Act went into effect in 1940, there was a flood of immigrants filing for naturalization. Many of these naturalizations were for people who had lived in the U.S. for 30 or more years. If they were not naturalized by 26 December 1940, there should be an alien registration.
Alien registrations are most often listed as a substitute for naturalization records, but in reality they contain a lot more information than an average naturalization record.
Alien registrations from 1940-1944 are on microfilm at USCIS. The registrations from 1944 forward are in each alien's A-File. A-Files, which begin in 1944, are the consolidation of all documents for an alien into a single file.
Additional information is available on the USCIS Website (www.uscis.gov, click Education and Resources, then Genealogy). Per government regulations, USCIS must cover expenses when providing services. Having timely access to these records far outweighs the minimal cost.