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, 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 nor on

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 $65 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 $65 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 1910 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.