Q. What is an alien registration number? Will it help me find out when my ancestor immigrated?
A. An alien registration number, or A-number, is found on an alien registration card. If your ancestor wasn’t naturalized, he or she may have obtained such a card as part of the Alien Registration Program. As of July 1, 1940, every alien resident over age 14 had to register at a post office. Those entering the United States had to register when they applied for admission.
Each person was fingerprinted and filled out a two-page form called the AR-2. It was attached to another form, the Alien Registration Receipt Card (AR-3), with a perforation. The forms were numbered serially with an alien registration number. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS; now US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS <www.uscis.gov>) processed the forms, then the AR-3 went back to the person. He had to carry the card at all times and notify INS of an address change within five days. Address reporting became an annual requirement in 1952, and ended in the 1980s.
Early registrations (July 1940 to April 1944) are on microfilm at USCIS offices in Washington, DC, but they’re not open to the general public. You must submit a written Freedom of Information Act request.
To order copies of AR-2 files, mail a letter or Form G-639, which you can download at <www.uscis.gov/files/form/g-639.pdf>, to USCIS National Record Center, FOIA Division, Box 648010, Lee’s Summit, MO, 64064. Identify the immigrant’s name, date and place of birth, and Alien Registration number (if known).
Don’t send any money: Though fees can go up to $14, the first two hours of research time and 100 copies are free; staff will notify you of any charges. But be prepared for a long wait – the search may take several months.
Your ancestor’s alien registration card may not be one of the documents family members were apt to save. If you can’t provide the alien registration number with your request, it may not be filled. But if you’re successful, the cards can offer details on immigration, employment, military service, court records, any arrests, club memberships and other activities. Learn more at <www.naturalizationrecords.com/usa/alien_reg.shtml>.
From the November 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.