A Little-Known Government Genealogy Service

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. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.

Under the USCIS Genealogy Program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. 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. The fee for a record copy from microfilm identified as (M) is $20 per request. The fee for a copy of a hard copy file identified as (HC) is $35 per request. More information about the fees associated with each file series may be found at http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/historical-records-series-available-genealogy-program.

The documents typically include immigration information, often (but not always) 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.

39 Comments

I can hardly wait to sit down and check my information and submit a search! I may actually find out where my Irish people landed in the USA! Thanks for a super source of info, Dick. You keep on making my Genealogical life more interesting!
Mary

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I made a request in March 2013 for an A-File and I’m still waiting!
Have contacted them a few times, they said:

The audit shows that we have been actively pursuing the retrieval of the record responsive to your request from the Federal Records Center (FRC).
Since the responsibility falls on a third-party, it makes it that much more difficult to bring about a speedy resolution.

They offered a refund and to close out the case until such time as the record has been located and retrieved. That was over a year ago.

They are now not answering my emails.

So, you might be waiting a long time for these records.

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    When that puts a damper on things! Hope someone else has had a better experience and will share that too! Thanks for the information, good to know ahead of time!
    Mary

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    Government. Federal, at that.

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    I am having the same experience. I applied in December 2013 with no response as yet. I have emailed twice since with no response to my emails.
    Betsy

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    So much for the much vaunted “increased efficiency” of contracting government services out to third-party businesses.

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    Ugh. At least they offered a refund before they disappeared and stopped responding.

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    I have posted information about who to contact.

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    JB: Can you share what you are looking for and let me see if I can find what you are looking for. I have done research on my Chinese records with some success. No harm in trying a different approach. If I find nothing, no loss. There will be no charge for me checking or helping. If I find something, I will let you know the steps I used. If I don’t find anything, you will be in the same position as now.

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Admittedly with just a quick glance, I noticed that the earliest records were from 1906. I scanned the FAQ’s to see if records were available prior to this but could not find anything that state that they were. So if you have ancestors who arrived prior to 1906 you may have to find another resource. My great grandfather came over in 1882. I was able to get his final naturalization papers from the Marion Co., Indiana courthouse. The final papers didn’t hold as much information but they at least established his citizenship.

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    This is a case where knowing the law helps. The “feds” were not involving in the handling of naturalization documents, other than those filed in federal courts, until 1906. Virtually all naturalization documents from prior to 1906 are still in the jurisdiction where they were created (either the court or its archives).

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I finally found both my grandmother and grandfather on a ship’s manifest after looking for at least 3 years. They came over separately in 1906 and 1907.They never became citizens but had registered as aliens in 1940. The information was not 100% correct but it gave me ports and dates of entry (one was off by a day) and ship. I then was able to look them up at EllisIsland.org and find them on the ship’s manifest. It was well worth the $40 it cost me.

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Once again I got all excited over nothing. The records start in 1893.

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This service is excellent, I’ve been using it for years. 1906 is the cut off year. Some type of correspondence from 1906 is required for their to be a file. The AR-2’s are tremendous. I never order a record without first doing an index search. You could miss valuable material if you do this. The time period could be really extended if they have to retrieve the actual paper records from a field office. They have about 10 times as much information as the FHL. Conversely, their index covers the whole country. This is a great service.

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Do not forget that the starting date for the Alien files is 1944. Anyone coming into the United States prior to 1940 will not have an alien number or file. Over 450,000 A Files of persons over 100 years old are open to the public through the National Archives in Kansas City. You can go to the website and search a database of names that are available. Follow the instructions on the website.

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I requested & received my grandmother’s file within 6 months. It
included her immigration information, naturalization certificate with photo, petition for naturalization, information on where & when the naturalization ceremony took place, etc. Her data was printed from a hard file, not microfilm.

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Know that this rarely works for the women in your tree. If they became a citizen by virtue of marrying a citizen, which was quite common, the UCIS will not have any information on them. The same would apply to a male that married into citizenship but, that was far less common. It will still cost you $20 if the result of the search is that there is no file.

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I requested a search 5 years ago under the Freedom of Information Act on my Grandmother’s file. After 2 years I received a reply that they had received my request. Since that time 3 years have gone by and no additional responses have been received and no replies to my email.

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Unrelated to immigration documents, I submitted a request for a Civil War veterans file back in Jan 2010…and I received a reply (dated Mar 2010) just last month, Dec. 2015!!

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I would be cautious about using USCIS Genealogy. It is either not operational or run very poorly. I submitted a request back in 2014. USCIS never provided any form of a response. A few weeks ago I e-mailed them regarding the status of my research request, but I was seemingly ignored. I would not have minded so much if they would have actually responded to me and simply stated they need more time and check back after X months. I ended up doing a chargeback because at some point I just assumed that no actual service was being performed.

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This service, I’m sorry to say, does not work. I submitted a request 18 months ago and have heard nothing. Too bad, because it would certainly benefit many of us.

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    I have used this service 3 times with replies each time. It took up to 3 months but they did arrive. Unfortunately some of the information I was looking for was missing or marked “unknown”.

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I was so excited about this program. Wish I had found this blog and its comments first! I submitted requests for index numbers in June 2015 for 3 individuals who immigrated btwn 1924-1928. Payment at $20 per person for total of $60. The index numbers were mailed to the wrong address, according to the person I finally got on the phone. She said the house number they had was wrong. I corrected the address and she said she would re-send them, never received them. I finally got her to email the visa numbers to me on Oct 20, 2015. All three were located and have numbers. On Oct 23, 2015 I submitted the records request–3 people @ $35 each or $105 as it was hard copies only. I have repeatedly checked the status and nothing. I have emailed the program 4X and receive an immediate form email saying they are processing requests received in November 2015, but I submitted mine the month before. The online status update indicates the records are “pending closure” and “FOIA approval”. I have left voice mails and in my emails I have offered to send death certificates if it’s a FOIA issue (although the people were all born btwn 1899-1901, confirmed through their records). I cannot get a response to emails and or voice mails. The voice mail recording says it is taking up to 120 days to receive records, but I am at roughly 160 days. It is now almost 10 months that I have been attempting to get these records, and after $165 all I have are three visa numbers that have little value other than to the folks who are looking up the records in the USCIS genealogy program. It is disturbing that they have no problem taking the money and then never contacting people. Also, who can you complain to? It’s the federal gov’t. I will say the folks I managed to get on the phone back in October 2015 did not sound very invested in their jobs and did not even seem to understand my questions. The person deemed my “case manager” was very hostile at first when she realized I had been transferred to her. It has been a negative experience so far but I am glad I am not the only one. I am hopeful that one day I will get the records because they will mean so much to me, while they mean nothing to the people who control them.

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I have experienced similar problems and opted to file a complaint with https://www.oig.dhs.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=177%3Ahotlineformnstructions-&catid=1&Itemid=133. I’ll try to remember to keep you posted. Have found other avenues to complain as well. See: http://www.mygcvisa.com/USCIS/USCIS-Contact.aspx

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    Well, this is interesting.
    (1) I wrote them a letter of complaint and sent it to everyone who seemed appropriate: genealogy.uscis@uscis.dhs.gov, USCIS Service Desk , USCIS Section 508 Coordinator , “USCIS Headquarters Office of Service Center Operations”
    I wrote the following:
    I’m sorry. There is no excuse for your lack of response.
    (1) your phone number has a perpetual “full mailbox” and you have the unmitigated gall to say my phone call is important to you in your outgoing message;
    (2) no one ever responds to email — no matter to whom it is sent
    (3) to tell me to check the status on line ONLY works if the tracking ID you provided is accepted by your online system instead of always reporting it is INVALID

    Please confirm my case is valid and in the queue.

    Or fail to respond yet again and leave me no response but to seek filing a formal complaint against your agency.

    (2) I opted to file a complaint in any case.

    I received several responses!

    (1) from “USCIS, Genealogy” :
    It is our goal to complete all requests within 90 days of receipt. Nevertheless, due to an increased volume of requests we are now answering:
    • Index Search Requests (Form G-1041) received in JANUARY 2016.
    • Record Requests (Form G-1041A) received in NOVEMBER 2015. Please note that pending record requests submitted prior that date are waiting for files or privacy screenings.

    (2) from DHS OIG :
    You recently submitted a complaint to the DHS OIG via the Hotline form on the OIG’s online website. Your Complaint number is: C9999999.

    Complaints received at the OIG are reviewed to determine if either a DHS OIG investigation or a referral to a more appropriate entity is warranted. If it is determined that the allegation does not fall within the scope of DHS OIG’s jurisdiction, then that information may be forwarded to the appropriate agency or authority for their review.

    This notification is not an indication that your complaint will be investigated by the DHS OIG or any other applicable investigating body.

    It is suggested you maintain a copy of this message for your records. DHS OIG Hotline does not provide complainants with the status of complaints after they are received. In approximately 60 days, if you would like to obtain more information regarding your complaint, you may submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the DHS OIG Office of Counsel (http://www.oig.dhs.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11&Itemid=77).

    (3) from “Service Desk, USCIS” (because I set to high priority and read receipt requested):
    Your message was read on Thursday, June 09, 2016 4:37:50 PM (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada).

    (4) from “USCIS, Genealogy” :
    Good Morning,

    Thank you for your interest in the USCIS Genealogy Program. Your email below indicates that you are seeking the status of your genealogy request case number GEN-99999999 received on March 14, 2016. This is a request for information pertaining to XXXXX XXXXX.

    This request is still in queue to be processed. It is our goal to complete all requests within 90 days of receipt but we are operating with a delay that has caused the turnaround time to increase significantly. We are currently processing requests that were received in January. We process our requests in the order that they are received a Genealogy request cannot be expedited. You request will be completed as soon as possible. We apologize for this delay.

    We also apologize for the delay in the response to your inquiry. Our customer inquiries have increased with our backlog and main focus has been processing and completing the cases. We are working diligently to complete all request.

    If you have additional questions regarding your request, please forward your questions to Genealogy.USCIS@dhs.gov . You may also contact the USCIS Genealogy Program toll free by calling 866-259-2349.
    Sincerely,

    The USCIS Genealogy Program
    Although no more informative, I did accomplish:
    (1) getting a response
    (2) getting their attention
    (3) my case ID now works on the site to verify it’s being worked on
    https://genealogy.uscis.dhs.gov/casestatus.aspx
    Hope this helps some one else

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    IMPORTANT UPDATE FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS HAD NO RESPONSE
    I received a phone call on 6/13 when I was unavailable. I returned the call on 6/14, 6/15 and left an-almost rude message on 6/22. All calls were made before 7AM PST which meant before 10AM Washington. At 5:20AM, I had a message on my answering machine. Never mind I had stated I was on the West Coast and my request contains my address. You’ll love this answer: she didn’t know the time difference between Washington and the West Coast! Also, other than the date of my request, all other dates referenced by this lady were INCORRECT as I was looking at my notes which include date AND time.
    Ok. Down to brass tacks. This woman claimed EVERYONE receives an email after submitting the request which contains the name of the Case Worker assigned. I offered to send her a copy of my ONE email response which did NOT contain that information. She was uninterested, as far as I could tell. Needless to say, I pushed the issue on behalf of the folks here who have had no response and finally managed to get a small bit of information. Her supervisor is LYNDA K. SPENCER and that person’s email address is LYNDA.K.SPENCER@uscis.dhs.gov.
    I suggest everyone write to the supervisor asking for the name of his/her Case Worker. I also suggest if you do NOT get a reply, file a complaint.
    Finally, when asked about my specific case, she informed me she had 10 cases from February she was working on before she would be getting to the March requests (which includes mine). After pushing and asking different questions I was able to learn each case takes between 2-7 days. Therefore 70 days before she begins my case. She agreed I would call her back in 2.5 months had I not heard from her by then.
    Because I have a direct number to this case worker, and it’s unlikely she will have your cases, if you do try to call her know the best you can hope for is, if she returns your call, is to immediately ask to speak to her supervisor.
    Her name is Linda Seaborn and her direct number is 202-587-9752.
    I do hope this helps someone here.

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I’m still waiting, since March 2013, so over 3 years.
See my post above @ September 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm
I asked a few weeks ago for an update.
This is the message I received.

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I order under the Freedom of Information Act my grandmother’s files 10 years ago. I received a confirmation that they were working on it 5 years ago. Have heard nothing else since!

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For everyone who is having problems, this may help you.
Try contacting this supervisor: LYNDA K SPENCER, LYNDA.K.SPENCER@uscis.dhs.gov
Your message should include your case # and request for the name AND phone number of your assigned case worker. Include any other pertinent information, such as how long you have waited for a reply and had none forethcoming. If you do not get a reply within a week, file a complaint with the DHS OIG:
https://www.oig.dhs.gov/hotline/hotline.php

Finally, keep a copy of these notes to file more complaints:

http://www.mygcvisa.com/USCIS/USCIS-Contact.aspx
To help improve customer service, we seek feedback from our customers, stakeholders, and affiliated agencies to help identify issues that directly affect you. Email the Ombudsman Liaison Unit at OLUInquiries@dhs.gov. Please explain your concern, question, or suggestion as clearly as possible. Regrettably, we cannot post any inquiries online if they have case-specific or personal information in them.

USCIS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act (PA) Contact:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
National Records Center, FOIA/PA Office
P. O. Box 648010
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010
Fax: 816-350-5785

Report USCIS Employee Misconduct
Anyone with knowledge or suspicion of criminal violations, misconduct, wasteful activities or allegations of civil rights or civil liberties abuse by a USCIS employee should report specific information such as date, time and location of the incident, the specific nature of the alleged misconduct, and the name(s) of employee(s) involved, to the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) by any of the following ways:
Toll-free DHS Hotline at 1-800-323-8603
By fax at 202-254-4292
File an online complaint at: Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline uscis.foia@dhs.gov
https://blog.eogn.com/2014/09/28/a-little-known-government-genealogy-service/

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Final update. Clearly my making lots of noise helped. I received 3 phone calls, which unfortunately were missed as I was unavailable, and an email follow-up with the results of the search. With the AR # and directions provided in the letter, I ordered my ancestor’s file. Read my prior posts for instructions how to follow my steps. Good luck and I hope you are all able to get your cases taken care of.

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For about 3 weeks the status of my file copy request was Pending QA (File has been received, duplicated, copied and waiting to be checked for accuracy, etc.).

It suddenly changed to Closed. Offering no explanation, and I haven’t heard anything from USCIS.

So I wrote directly to one of their staff members I was in touch with previously.

No response to my simple question:

Can anybody here with experience with the USCIS genealogy service tell me what a status of “Closed” means?

Does it mean that they’re done working on it and I should expect to see the copy soon?

Or does it mean something bad?

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    There have been a number of firings of employees at the Federal level in the past few months. The staff member with whom you dealt may no longer be there or may be overwhelmed in doing the jobs of former co-workers. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in state agencies.

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I’m happy to add some good news to this thread of comments.
Today I received in the mail a copy of the visa file I requested in March 2017. I thought I had requested a digital copy, so was expecting to receive a PDF via email. It never came. I’ll probably write to them to inquire why that didn’t happen.
“Closed” apparently means something good in my case – that they have closed the case – meaning that they are done working on it and shortly thereafter I received a copy.
I requested an index search way back at the beginning of September 2016, so it’s nice to finally have this 9 month wait concluded.
It took more than 5 months for them to complete the index search. And about another 4 to complete the request for the visa file record copies.
My request for the record copy went through four phases of status update:
“Active” – no explanation, but in retrospect this was the phase where they were working to bring the record into their duplication center. My case remained at this status for 3 months.
“Pending digitization: The record has been received and is in queue pending digitization.” – After they received the visa file in their duplication center it remained in queue for another month.
“Pending QA (quality assurance): The record has been received, duplicated, and copied and is waiting review for accuracy, legibility, and completeness.” The file remained at this status for another 2 weeks, until it was suddenly changed to…..
“Closed.” – I can’t say that this status always means what it meant in my case, but after one more week, I received the requested file through the US postal service sent first class in a big manila envelope. So closed in my case meant: just hold your horses man, it’s on it’s way shortly.
In my previous post I mentioned that the USCIS genealogy department was non-responsive to my email inquiry as to what “closed” means. My receipt of the file in the US mail today resolves that question. It came with a cover letter from the department superior of the individual I wrote to. It was probably just a matter of protocol that they allowed the US mail service to deliver their communication to me rather than utter redundancies. Remember, it’s the US Department of Homeland Security, not Ancestry.com
I’m very happy to put a close to this long wait, and advise anyone who is considering using this service to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. I could have saved myself some grief by acting sooner than I did, and probably would have if I knew it was going to take 9 months. Not exactly a bouncing baby boy, but it’s nice to have the data in this visa file.
Have a great day.

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Reblogged this on and commented:
Have any of you made use of this service before? Please share your experience, and any great finds!, with the rest of us.

Have a blessed week.

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