- What is an A-File?
- What is the research value of A-Files?
- Is the information included in A-Files unique from other genealogical resources?
- Which A-Files are presently available for research through NARA?
- What A-File information can I expect to find in the National Archives Catalog?
- How may I view an A-File?
- I can't find my ancestor's entry in NARA's Online Catalog. Should I submit a record request?
- What information do I need to make a record request?
- May I request any A-File if it is available in the National Archives Catalog?
- I'm not sure if my ancestor has an A-File. Are there other immigration case files available at NARA?
What is an A-File?
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began issuing aliens an Alien Registration number in 1940, and on April 1, 1944, began using this number to create individual case files, called Alien Files or A-Files.
A-Files contain all records of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the United States immigration and inspection process. An A-File might also be created without any action taken by the alien, for example if INS initiated a law enforcement action against or involving the alien.
In a few instances there are files on aliens who registered between 1940 and 1944. These files document aliens who received an Alien Registration number and form prior to 1944, and had an A-File created due to the re-opening of the case after 1944. Files from other series, such as visa files, were withdrawn and placed in the A-Files when cases were reopened in instances such as the filing of applications to replace a document, obtain a border crossing card, or petition for an immigrant relative.
If the individual that you seek does not have an A-File, a microfilmed copy of their Alien Registration Form ("Form AR–2") may still be available for research from US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
What is the research value of A-Files?
A-Files are a rich source of biographical information in that they contain relatively modern immigration documents, all in one file. Since the early 20th century the United States collected increasing amounts of information from immigrants and A-Files from mid-century that hold a wealth of data, including visas, photographs, applications, affidavits, correspondence, and more.
Although the files were created beginning in 1944, documents and information included may be much older than that, and could date to the birth of the person. Documents may also be included that date up to the time of any final action related to the alien which could be deportation, permanent resident status, or citizenship.
Is the information included in A-Files unique from other genealogical resources?
Generally, yes. No other type of case file contains the same level of comprehensive personal data. In addition, the information contained in the files is largely unique, especially concerning the alien's interaction with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and his/her request for resident status and/or citizenship.
Some of the demographic information in the records is available in state/local vital records and census records. However, some demographic information is not likely to be found elsewhere, for example names and addresses of employers, photographs of alien, and residences in non-census years and their country of origin. Also, some files include copies (in original language or translated) of foreign birth certificates and marriage licenses that may not be readily accessible or are extant.
Which A-Files are presently available for research through NARA?
The National Archives at Kansas City presently holds a portion of the available A-File records for individuals who were born 1918and prior. Records at the National Archives at Kansas City contain A-Files for individual from across the United States and its territories.
The National Archives at San Francisco presently holds a portion of the available A-File records for individuals who were born 1920and prior. Records at the National Archives at San Francisco contain some of the A-Files from Reno, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Guam District Offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Additional records will be accessioned to our holdings on an annual basis. Each accession will continue to increase the number of records available in the earlier date ranges, while also extending date coverage forward. If you find that the National Archives does not hold the A-File record for the individual you are seeking, please check back at a later date in theNational Archives Catalogas coverage will continue to grow.
What A-File information can I expect to find in the National Archives Catalog?
Each A-File the National Archives maintains is described within theNational Archives Catalogat the individual file level. A-File entries in the National Archives Catalog may contain:
- Alien Registration number
- Last Name
- First Name
- Date of Birth
- Date of Entry
- Country of Birth
- Father's Name
- Mother's Name
- Naturalization Date
- Naturalization Court
- Naturalization Location
How may I view an A-File?
Researchers may order copies of files or view them in person. You must identify the file following the steps outlined in "How to Request Copies of A-Files"and the National Archives will retrieve, review, duplicate, and return the requester a copy of that record. The requester may have obtained the basic A-File information through aNational Archives Catalogsearch or from another source such as Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. There are reproduction fees associated with record requests.
I can't find my ancestor's entry in NARA's Online Catalog. Should I submit a record request?
The National Archives can only fulfill record requests that include a valid Alien Registration number and are listed in theNational Archives Catalog. If you cannot find your individual in the National Archives Catalog, it is because the National Archives does not currently maintain the record you are seeking.
To continue your search contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through theirGenealogy Program[http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy]. The USCIS maintains all active and inactive A-Files that have not yet been transferred into the holdings of the National Archives. The National Archives will accession new A-Files on an annual basis, so you can also continue to check back in the National Archives Catalog to see if your individual has been added to our holdings.
What information do I need to make a record request?
To make a record request you must provide: the individual's complete name, National Archives Identifier, and Alien Registration number. 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. To determine the proper National Archives Identifier and Alien Registration number you can complete a search through theNational Archives Catalog. If you do not have access to a computer, members of our staff can aid in this process.
Tips for Searching for an Individual's Name in the National Archives Catalog
- Search onthe person's full namein first name-last name order.
- Search onthe surname only.The records might only include a first initial or a variant spelling of the first name.
- Search onvariant spellings of the surname,for example: Luchetti or Lucetti.
- Search onvariant spellings of the first name,for example: Joseph Maggio or Guiseppe Maggio.
May I request any A-File if it is available in the National Archives Catalog?
Anyone may request any A-File that is currently listed in the National Archives Catalog. A-Files may include personal information about other persons who could still be living, such as immigrant's children. NARA cannot release third party personal information found on documents that are restricted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions, so some records received from the National Archives may have some information redacted.
See more information about theFreedom of Information Act.
I'm not sure if my ancestor has an A-File. Are there other immigration case files available at NARA?
Yes, there are other types of immigration case files available through the National Archives and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program.
National Archives Reference Information Paper 99 ("Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States") is a guide to Chinese Exclusion Act-era case files maintained by National Archives facilities nationwide.
The National Archives at San Francisco also has significant holdings of individual case files created by the San Francisco and Honolulu District Offices of the INS that pre-date the A-Files. These case files date from 1884-1954. For more information about searching these records, contact National Archives staff firstname.lastname@example.org see theirhandout "How to Inquire About Immigration Case Files From Home".
The USCIS Genealogy Program makes available historic immigration and naturalization records such as Certificate Files, Visa Files, Registry Files, and more. Visithttp://www.uscis.gov/genealogy/for more information.