An inside look into U.S. National Archives’ best research gem for WWII-era immigrants

For years, I have been glowing about the importance of Alien Case Files, possessed by the U.S. National Archives. There is nothing like a nice stack of documents filled with information on individual immigrants in one simple file.

Anyone wondering about relatives or ancestors who fled war-torn Europe during and after World War II should consider looking into obtaining Alien Case Files on their family. Only a small portion of records included in these files can be found on any online genealogy website, including Ancestry.com.

So here is a sneak peek into the life of Helen, my relative by marriage. Born in Ukraine, she fell in love in Russia, had her heart broken by her husband, escaped the USSR with her two children with her ex-husband and his new wife before a major battle between the Soviet Union and Germany occurred in her new hometown.

She was eventually captured by the German army and forced to fix the railroad damaged in the war. The American Army liberated her and she traveled through western Europe before coming abroad to live the American dream.

Her Alien Case File below shows how much can be discovered on WWII-era immigrants. Not all immigrants will have the same amount of records on them but Alien Case Files are the most complete records on immigrants in U.S. National Archives. I deleted several personal details in these scans for privacy reasons.

If you would like to find Alien Case Files on your family, read this FAQ on increasing chances of success in finding these records.

 

Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

Hitting the jackpot on researching WWII-era immigrants takes a few simple steps. It will cost around $130 per immigrant being researched. That’s a price well below the value of the documents filled in the U.S. Alien Case Files.

Here’s answers to general questions on obtaining these files.

What information will I need to obtain the files on my relative?

It is most important to know the person’s full name, birth date or birth year, birth country or city and immigration year. Any extra information such as profession, old addresses, names of relatives living in the same household increases the chances of finding the correct file. Various known spellings of the immigrant’s name also are a great help.

It is highly recommended to first obtain the immigrant’s naturalization record from regional archives of U.S. National Archives. That record will likely include the immigrant’s Alien Number.

What is the importance of the Alien Number?

The number will determine where the Alien Case File can be found. In order to search for an Alien Case File through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program, the number must be below 8 million.

Files with numbers higher than 8 million must be requested with a Freedom of Information Act request, using this form. That form needs to be sent to National Records Center (NRC), FOIA/PA Office, P.O. Box 648010, Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010 or uscis.foia@uscis.dhs.gov. Do not mentioned genealogy as the reason for requesting file. Your request will be rejected and you will be referred to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program if you mention genealogy on the form.

Is there an online database for the Alien Case Files?

An index of available files for immigrants born no later than 1910 can be found on Ancestry.com here. If you don’t have an Ancestry.com paid account, visit FamilySearch.org, free and without a registration requirement, to search the index here.

If I find files of relatives in the index, where can I get the files?

Send an e-mail message to U.S. National Archives in Kansas City at Afiles.KansasCity@nara.gov. View this page for more information on the files at Kansas City.

If my relatives are not found in the index, where I can send my search request?

Visit this page for the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Genealogy Program to see whether your relatives’ files would be eligible to be included in the genealogy program. If your relative’s file fall within the criteria, go here to make an index search request for $65. Results of the search will be sent by postal mail in a few weeks and then the located files must be ordered for $65 each.

My relatives were born after 1910 and are not eligible to be included in the genealogy program. How do I get their files?

Fill out this form and send it to National Records Center (NRC), FOIA/PA Office
P.O. Box 648010, Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010 or uscis.foia@uscis.dhs.gov . Don’t put down genealogy under Part 3 for 1. Purpose (Optional).

It is highly recommended to have the immigrant’s Alien Number, if possible.

You will receive a letter, stating your request number. That number can be used to check the status update page daily to see the placement of your requests. That website’s address will be listed in the letter.

The form is free to file. It could cost up to $25 for each file, which is sent on a CD in a PDF format. I have not paid once for Alien Case Files through the FOIA/PA office.

How long does it take to get the files?

It should take less than a month to get the files from Kansas City. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program tries to send files within 90 days. Results of search requests using the Freedom of Information Act form take several weeks or months.

Do I have to prove ancestry to the immigrant whose file I am requesting?

No. The only requirements for requesting these files are the person whose file is being requested must be deceased and their death must be proven if they were born after 1916. Proof of death can be shown with copies or scans of obituaries, Social Security Death Index listings and death records.

Can living people get their own Alien Case Files?

Yes. They must prove their identity with their birth record, driver’s license or passport.

If you have more questions, post them in the comments section below or e-mail me at bepa.miller at mail.ru.

Battle with federal government ends after 10 months

I am pleased that I have won my first battle with the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services  (USCIS).

My step-grandfather was born in the same Russian region as my grandmother so it made me curious whether they had known each other before they separately immigrated to the USA. I thought the USCIS Genealogy Program would have his Alien File, the biggest gem in researching any immigrant, but staff couldn’t find his file for many months.

So, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. I naively put down genealogy as the reason for my request, a bad move. The FOIA office sent me a letter, stating my request should be sent to the genealogy program.

Then, I appealed the office’s denial by sending copies of the e-mail messages from the genealogy program that the file cannot be found in its database. I also sent a print out of a genealogy program webpage that reads files not available through that program could be acquired with a FOIA request.

My appeal also included a promise to not make any more FOIA requests for a while. Right now, I do not have two deceased relatives’ Alien Files. I can wait on those files.

So the lesson learned is not to put down genealogy as the reason for requesting Alien Files on this form.

My grandmother didn’t have children with her second husband but the information in the file will help me determine whether photos in my grandmother’s boxes are of a brother or her second husband. His file details his life in Russia, France, Germany and the USA, making it an interesting read.

In the three years of annoying the FOIA office of the USCIS, I have yet to pay anything for the Alien Files, nicely scanned onto CDs. The best things in genealogy are free even if I have to annoy Uncle Sam.

Related posts:

Seven months worth waiting

Documents that open doors to information

60 years later, a family story starts to come together

Two years of frustration may end soon

I received my maternal grandparents’ petitions for naturalization in the mail yesterday, with hope that I would find new information on my grandparents.

I learned the witnesses of my grandparents’ naturalization were longtime friends and a co-worker. I didn’t see other new information until I looked closer.

My grandparents’ alien numbers were on the petitions. I thought their alien numbers were listed on their certificates of naturalization. So, I compared the numbers and they were different.

That made me realize I finally have the correct alien numbers for my grandparents. For the past two years, I have been frustrated that the National Records Center for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could not find their Alien Files.

Now, I have renewed hope that I could get their Alien Files, which are gold mines of information on immigrants. I have submitted new Freedom of Information Act requests to USCIS, hoping that the correct alien numbers could help with finding their files.

My mother gave me lots of records from her parents but their marriage record is very faded and her father’s birth record is missing. Could these records be in the Alien Files? I could know in two months.

I am crossing my fingers that I can get these files, which could tell my mother how her parents traveled with her through Ukraine, Poland and Germany before they immigrated to the USA. My mother knows some information but documents in her parents’ Alien Files will confirm those stories.

We’ll see if the U.S. government will deliver me a Christmas present from my grandparents.

*****

More info on Alien Files:

Documents that open doors to information

Finally, a useful database on ancestry.com

60 years later, a family story starts to come together

I finally received the Alien Case File of my mother’s family’s immigration sponsor, Vasil, but the immigration file makes me even more curious. The former Soviet repatriation officer apparently was very interesting to the federal government in the 1950s.

His file is an unusual 222 pages. I only received about 40 pages of documents because other federal agencies have to decide whether I will see the missing pages. The file has a few head shots of Vasil, giving me a face to this mystery man.

I am a bit surprised that Vasil was able to sponsor my family when he arrived in the USA two years before my family and he wasn’t a U.S. citizen yet.

Now that I know when he lived in Bavaria, where my family lived, I learned my grandfather had three years to befriend this man for immigration sponsorship. Vasil also worked for the U.S. Army in Bavaria so that explains where he and my grandfather met.

I also learned one of Vasil’s witnesses for naturalization was wife of another Soviet repatriation officer, Valentin, whom my grandfather befriended, and that Vasil had two sons in New York City.

Thanks to this information, I was able to find information on Valentin and his wife on ancestry.com. I found Valentin on a family tree and the user maintaining that tree got me in contact with Valentin’s son.

Now, I have pictures of Valentin and his wife, who stayed in contact with Vasil and  another repatriation officer, Evgeniy, who was a Russian friend of my grandfather from Bavaria. Soon, I hopefully will have photos of Evgeniy, who my mother remembers as a child.

I await more information from Valentin’s son to learn about this trio of repatriation officers, who stayed together in the USA. The son says he hardly knows anything but maybe he really knows more than he thinks. The story of my family’s immigration to the USA could get really interesting soon.

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This post is a followup to Meet your friendly Soviet repatriation officer.

For more information on Alien Case Files, see Documents that open doors to information.