A little-known program of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides genealogy information that may be difficult or impossible to obtain elsewhere. The records include naturalization files, visa applications and citizenship tests, and may reveal family secrets and mysteries.
Under the USCIS Genealogy Program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. For $20, the government will run a search of the name, as long as the person is deceased. If there are records available, the government charges additional fees for the files.
In fiscal year 2009, more than 5,300 requests were made, fewer than expected. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.
The documents typically include immigration information, often including exact hometowns in their ancestors' native countries. The files often have information on brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Many times it is useful to obtain the records of your uncles, aunts, and cousins who also immigrated from "the old country."
If the immigrant applied for American citizenship, the details are also included in these files. For anyone of Japanese, German, or Italian origin, who lived in the United States during World War II, the documents often include FBI reports about the person's activities, including friends, family, and political activities.
For more information about the program, check out http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy.