I love that thrill that comes when you find an ancestor in a database or record collection. Even after many years of researching, I still get excited. I’ll usually let out a little whoop, startling any dogs or cats that happen to be hanging around in my office, and perhaps do a little happy dance. My daughter will roll her eyes and give me that, “My mom is crazy” look, and I’ll just remind her it could be worse. Perhaps she’d like to see the dance I do when I make discoveries in libraries and other public places? Ahh, mortifying the teenager . . . good times.
Fortunately for her more and more of my happy dances can be done from home. Not only do we have indexes, we also often find original records online. Even when we can’t, government agencies are finding it practical to make record requests easier through their websites by adding helpful information, indexes, and downloadable forms to submit with record requests.
In May of 2008, Ancestry posted nearly 2.5 million index cards to U.S. Naturalization Records, 1794-1995 to its Immigration Collection . On August 13th, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the INS), launched its Genealogy program to expedite our requests for older records, including naturalization records. I wondered about the relationship between the naturalization indices at Ancestry and USCIS records, and so I contacted USCIS to learn more. They gave me some helpful information for those who have found their ancestors in the index entries and are ready to request the naturalization records from the USCIS.
What records do they have?
The USCIS offers five sets of records under their new program, the largest of which are their naturalization records, which begin 27 September 1906. These are known as “C-Files.” Some C-Files are in textual form, and others have been microfilmed. When you locate your ancestor on the index, you’ll (hopefully--more on this later) find a C-File number. If the number is below 6500000, the record is on microfilm. If the C-File number is above 6500000, it will be a textual (paper) file. Textual files are a bit more expensive to order ($35) because it’s more labor intensive to retrieve them and copy them, as opposed to the files that have been microfilmed ($20).
The USCIS also has an index to all of the C-Files ($20), and you can request a search of that index if necessary. In some cases this index will be a carbon copy of the court indexes that Ancestry has posted to its website. In other cases, the format may vary a bit. In most cases, the court index cards at Ancestry will include the C-File number that is necessary to order the naturalization file for your ancestor.
Unfortunately, index cards for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit) didn’t use the standard index forms available, and they neglected to include the C-File number on their index cards. You will need to request an index search from the USCIS to get that number, and then you can go in and request the C- File.
If you don’t have access to Ancestry Indexes, or if you have found that to your dismay, your ancestor was naturalized in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, you can click here to download the G-1041 form to request an index search on your ancestor. Click here for detailed instructions. If you are among the lucky many, and have found your ancestor in the index, done your happy dance (not required, but fun), and have the C- File Number, click here to download the G-1041A form to order your ancestor’s naturalization file. Click here for detailed instructions.
Note: For privacy reasons, if the person for whom you are requesting the record was born less than one hundred years ago, you will need to submit some sort of proof of death. The USCIS website lists the following as acceptable, but also states not to send originals as they will not be returned. -- Death certificate -- A printed obituary, funeral program, or photograph of gravestone -- Bible, church, or other religious record -- U.S. Social Security Death Index record (individual records, not lists) -- Records related to the payment of death benefits -- Other documents demonstrating that the subject of the request is deceased.
When you're sending in your G1041A request after using the Ancestry.com index, make sure you use the "date of admission" (naturalization), which is the date the USCIS will use for its search. Some cards will also include the date of the petition, and Ancestry references this in the index to the index, but you'll need to pull the admission date from the image on the card.
In the Naturalization index, for post-1940 records, look for an Alien Registration number. Alien Registration Forms AR-2, 1940-1944, are another of the five sets of records you can request from USCIS. With this seven-digit number (A-number, sometimes abbreviated to A.R., followed by a seven-digit number) you can use the G-1041A form to order these records as well. The AR-2 form is a two page document. Available AR Forms are numbered from 1000000 to about 5500000. (Click on the link at the end of this article for examples of cards that include Alien Registration numbers.)
If your ancestor’s case was revisited after the war, an A-File would have been created for them as well. A-Files up to 8000000 are yet another of the USCIS’ five sets of records and use the same A- numbers. Ancestors who were admitted to the U.S. between 01 April 1944 and 1 May 1951 will also have an A-File. You may also find Visas and other records in this file.
What do I get and how?
Naturalization records are highly prized for the amount of information they contain. Although the forms were standardized after 1906, they did change over the years. The post-1906 records contain much more information than their predecessors and are generally well worth the effort in obtaining them. Post-1929 naturalizations even include a photograph.
While the forms and instructions are more readily available online, you will still need to submit the form via snail-mail. (Yes, you will need to leave home to send out your request unless you have a really cool mail carrier.) Because the program is so new, they don’t have an estimated turn around time as of yet, but the website plans to include that information in its FAQs once they get a grip on the average time.
Your records will also be sent to you via the post office, and you can choose whether to have them sent on paper or as digital files on CD (PDF files). Given the choice, the PDF files on CD would seem the better option. First, USCIS tells me the quality of the microfilm scan vs. photocopy is much better, and if you are getting paper files, the scans are in color. If there is a photograph, you’ll have a digital scan of it. Plus having it in electronic form means you can share it with cousins as soon as you get it, print copies for the reunion, or post it to your blog—perhaps along with a picture of you doing your own version of the happy dance.
One final reminder--the USCIS only has post-26 September 1906 records, and many earlier naturalization records are held by the National Archives or they may be found on the local level. You also may find documents in local court records that aren’t available in the USCIS records, and vice versa, so it’s a good idea to search on both the national and local level. For more information on locating naturalization records, see They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins, by Loretto Dennis Szucs.
Click here to learn more about records held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Special thanks to USCIS for all their help with this article!
~ Sample Cards
I've posted some sample naturalization index card images from both Ancestry and USCIS here on the blog. Here you'll be able to clearly see exactly which numbers you need to use to order your ancestor's records. There are also some interesting illustrations of things to keep in mind. Click here to see the examples.
Ancestry has several other collections of naturalization records. Search the Card Catalog using the keyword “naturalization” to see what else is available. Here are a couple examples of the larger collections that are available:
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for thirteen years and is author of "The Ancestry Family Historian's Address Book." She has written for "Ancestry" Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in "The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy," rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at .