Documents that open doors to information

I always wondered where are all the documents the federal government collected on immigrants. Coming to this country as an immigrant involves constant filing of paperwork.

No one will find the gem of information on ancestry.com, which only has some passenger lists and naturalization records. Many of the records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have not been posted online or on ancestry.com.

The biggest gem of genealogy research on immigrant relatives are Alien Files. These files are filled with information on residency, employment, family members and life in the old country. Some files even have marriage and birth certificates, which are almost impossible to obtain from Russia and Ukraine archives.

These gems are the crown jewels for anyone seeking information on Russian or Ukrainian relatives. So many relatives, even my family, did not talk about their relatives or life in the old country under communism. The less everyone knew, the better life would be.

Now, the less you know, the more frustrating genealogy and the search for family become.

That is why these Alien Files are so important. They are available for a reasonable fee. The genealogy program of  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services charges $20 to search for an individual file. It takes a few weeks to determine whether the program has a file. When the file is found, it costs $20 or $35 to obtain the entire file. Then, the program will mail the file within three to four months.

So far, Alien Files on my relatives have ranged in 20 to 50 pages. The files can answer so many questions never asked of relatives and satisfy some curiosities. The genealogy program details the information included in the files here.

Not everyone’s Alien File is available in the genealogy program. Files for deceased persons are available, but someone can request her/his file.

It is best to search NARA’s database here before making a search request with the genealogy program. Many Alien Files for individuals born 1908 or earlier can be found in NARA’s database. If the NARA search engine finds a file, the website will list where the file is located and how to contact the office holding the file.

If the NARA database or the genealogy program does not find a file, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request can be made. Information on making that request is here.

I have made three FOIA requests. The process is long, but worthwhile if the files are found. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services posts updates on the status of FOIA requests here several times a week.

My grandfather’s file has not been found, but I am hoping files of my grand uncle and a cousin are found. Right now, the federal government has the Alien Files stored in many locations. A NARA employee told me to wait some time and resubmit my FOIA because my grandfather’s file is somewhere.

The time it takes to touch these file is long, but it is well worth having documented information on relatives. Basing genealogy or a search for relatives on family stories can sometimes waste precious time and money.

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15 responses to “Documents that open doors to information

  1. I was able to contact the county office in NJ (Morris County) where I thought my grandfather may have submitted papers and someone did a search for me and found my grandfather’s petition for naturalization. I had to sign a release saying that I was related. It was free. Then I contacted NARA, and they had nothing . I went through USCIS and paid $20 for an index search. in 2 weeks, they returned with info of his C-file. I submitted another $20 and requested this file. Right now it looks like I should have it in december. My uncle and grandmother have derivative citizenship, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed! NARA did locate an aunt’s A-file and a friend’s ghrandmother’s file, which I received within a week, costing $15 plus a copying fee.

    I was told that files are being transferred to NARA. I was told they are kept in football field length underground vaults.

    I don’t understand how you received a computer disk for free? Freedom of information Act?

    • Hi Jeanne!

      Thanks for visiting my blog. I grew up in Sussex County, NJ. I also got my grand uncle’s petition for naturalization from a county office, but in New York. I do not recall signing a release. I believe I paid $25 for the petition. Right now, NARA is getting files for people born up to 1909. My Freedom of Information Act requests have been all free. It should be after waiting so long for them. USCIS may remove material from your files on people mentioned in your relatives’ files if they have no proof they are deceased or they were born after 1911. I have successfully challenged material being removed from the A-Files I received because deceased people do not have the right to privacy under the federal laws. I need ever scrap of information in the files.

      Vera

      • If a person has a C-file will their A-file be part of it? I am anxiously awaiting my grandfather’s papers, and hoping there are birth certificates. The A-file I received for an aunt had lots of papers from Uzhhorod…gold! The village name of Dravce was written as Dravcich in one spot. Anecdotally, my grandmother’s village sounded like “Drowtsic” so I’m thinking it may be it.

      • Everything in the A-File moves into the C-File, I believe. It’s confusing, but the files have lots of information either way.

  2. Pingback: Dukelsky family - Ukraine.com Discussion Forum

  3. Hi! Love your blog!

    I searched NARA and came back with nothing. My great grandfather landed in the US in 1912 from today’s Ukraine. Is this too early in the game to have such a file for my great grandfather?

  4. Hi, I hope I’m leaving my message in the right place, my grandmothers maiden name was Semkovsky, her first name was Margaret or Magdalena, she was born in Austria in 1897 I hope you can help me.
    Thank you

    • lostrussianfamily

      Please send me more information at bepa.miller @ mail. ru and maybe I can help you find more information.

  5. Hi, is it worth the cost to order c-file? As I proceeded through the order process, it only indicated the citizenship certificate, of which I have a copy. Will the c-file likely have other documents? I am hoping to get some more info on my grandfather, Lukacz Vasilyvich Rebenok from Udalevka, Belarus.Thank you for all the great information on your blog!

    • Hello Rita,

      I am happy you are enjoying my blog.

      What year was your grandfather born? When did he arrive in the USA or get naturalized?

      Once I know this information, I can answer your question better.

      Vera

      • He was born 1889, arrived in US July 5,1912, and naturalized August 6, 1936. Thanks.

      • Where did you have immigration files searched for him- NARA Kansas City, NARA regional office or USCIS Genealogy? If you only searched at a NARA regional office, I highly recommend that you contact Elizabeth.Burnes@nara.gov. Give your grandfather’s naturalization number and other details and she will search for a file for you. It should be around $20 for the search and documents.

  6. OK, thank you Vera.

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