USCIS: Learning more about our families

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services began providing a government genealogy service in 2008.

A Los Angeles Times article today – by Anna Gorman – detailed the USCIS program that Jewish genealogists have heard about at recent IAJGS conferences. Tracing the Tribe first heard about it from USCIS historian Marian Smith several years ago.

In 2009, some 5,300 requests were made, a lower number than expected, which may be due to the costs associated with fees for a name search and file copies. Family members, historians and researchers may request the information.

The records include naturalization files, visa applications and citizenship tests, and may reveal family secrets and mysteries, said Marian Smith, the agency’s historian.

“The details of the story have been told over time, and the edges kind of wear off,” Smith said. With the documents, “there are a lot of ah-ha moments.”

In the past, genealogy researchers had to file document requests under the Freedom of Information Act and sometimes waited years for a response.

Under the 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.

The story details the cases of Susanne Mori and the story of her grandfather’s life – he arrived from Japan more than 50 years ago – and that of Alan Latteri who wanted information for his quest for information on his grandfather to obtain Italian dual citizenship.

Mori found 23 pages of information and photographs on Jinbei Mori who arrived in San Francisco a month after the 1906 earthquake. He spent decades working for the Union Pacific Railroad and the FBI searched his home during WWII.

Latteri learned he wasn’t eligible for dual citizenship, but did learn more about his grandfather.

The story quoted Southern California Genealogical Society president Pam Wiedenback, who said it will be a treasure chest for genealogists, and that the files will have information to help researchers connect the dots.

For experienced genealogists, the files may open the doors to even more research, perhaps leading people to exact hometowns in their ancestors’ native countries. And for those new to genealogy, they may be just the beginning. “For every question you answer you come up with two or three more,” Wiedenbeck said.

Read the complete story at the link above. And click here to learn more about the USCIS genealogy program.

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