I got a letter from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Friday. For a split second I was worried—like if you get an unexpected letter from the IRS. But then I remembered that way back in May I’d requested the case file number for my great-grandfather’s alien registration.
I was inspired to put in my request back in May, when I was editing our November 2009 article on getting federal government records. (This issue goes on sale next week at newsstands and FamilyTreeMagazine.com.)
In the paragraphs on the USCIS genealogy service, David A. Fryxell explained how the Smith Act of 1940 required non-citizens age 14 or older to register as aliens. I remember putting what seemed like dozens of semicolons in the long list of what the “AR-2” form asked of registrants:
- biographical information such as name, name at arrival and occupation
- relatives’ names
- physical description
- arrival date, place and ship name
- membership in clubs and organizations
- whether and where citizenship papers had been filed
- any arrests
… and more. AR-2 forms date from August 1940 to March 31, 1944. I put together the pieces and realized that my great-grandfather, who immigrated in 1900 and declared his intention to become a citizen in 1942, would’ve had to register. Maybe I’d get some clues for stretches of time when I can’t find records on the family.
I stopped my editing immediately and took four minutes to send my online Genealogy Program request. (A benefit of this job is that doing a little research counts as verifying information.)
USCIS staff are working through a request backlog. As soon as I got the AR-2 file number Friday, I sent off my request for a copy of the form. (Because I’m moving, I’m having it sent to my parents. I told them not to worry if they get a letter from the USCIS with my name on it.)
I wish you could order both the number and the record at the same time, but alas, it’s a two-step process that takes a total of $55 and about six months.
Besides AR-2 forms, the Genealogy Program also gives you access—for a fee—to naturalization certificate files (Sept. 27, 1906, to March 31, 1956), visa files (July 1, 1924, to March 31, 1944), registry files (March 2, 1929, to March 31, 1944) and immigrant files (April 1, 1944, to May 1, 1951; these are being transferred to the National Archives 100 years after the birth of the immigrant named). See the USCIS genealogy page for more on making your request.