Today, guest blogger Elizabeth Carrington from the National Archives at Kansas City has written a special NARA Coast-to-Coast post announcing the opening of over 300,000 Alien Case Files from the records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
I find when I approach new records what I really want to understand is how a particular item has meaning in my own life; I want to see a reflection (or contradiction) of my experiences in the piece of history I have sitting before me. Working with the National Archives at Kansas City’s recent accession of more than 300,000 Alien Files (A-Files) for individuals born 1909 and prior from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, I have had an opportunity to observe a snapshot of American life that I have never before experienced.
Willem de Kooning Alien Registration Form.
A-Files were utilized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service starting on April 1, 1944, as a means of recording the details of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the United States immigration and inspection process. They are a rich source of biographical information in that they contain relatively modern immigration documents, all in one file. Each file has the potential to hold a wealth of data including visas, photographs, applications, affidavits, correspondence, and more. Additionally, the files are unique from other genealogical resources in that the level of comprehensive data included is comparably larger, and in some cases there is a variety of information such as employer addresses, residences in non-census years, and copies of certificates and licenses in original foreign languages that may not be found elsewhere.
Rotterdam Birth Registration for Willem de Kooning.
Sitting down with a box of files I came across a file containing the birth, baptism, and marriage certificates of a woman who emigrated with her family from their home in a small Italian town to the busy streets of New York City. Another file found a man failing to register his alien status, and in turn fighting through and ultimately losing a deportation hearing. A third file contained a Jamaican woman’s request for a visa extension in order “to visit with other relatives and to have the opportunity [of] seeing the snow and a little more of the wonderful country.”
My favorite find was the file of Willem de Kooning, a famous abstract expressionist painter, which contained a character reference from the Museum of Modern Art that testified to the strength of his pieces and potential for his future role in the American art world.
Character reference for Willem de Kooning from the Museum of Modern Art.
In each case I obtained great insight into the individual’s life from foreign birth and entry into the United States to establishing new roots in American communities; I felt that I was seeing a part of their lives, whether it was related to home, career, travels, or personal struggles, that few others have been privy to.
Willem de Kooning Certificate of Naturalization.
If you are interested in learning more about the A-Files and how to request or view files please visit http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/aliens/a-files-kansas-city.html. A successful request will contain the individual’s complete name, Archival Research Catalog (ARC) ID number, and Alien Registration number. You can perform a search in ARC (click the “Search within this series” link in the description and enter the name for which you are searching).
To confirm that we have referenced the correct file, it is also helpful to provide the individual’s date and place of birth and date of entry into the United States. We receive A-File requests either by e-mail, postal mail, or fax only.