We will discuss what led to this moment of limited access to historical immigration records and the unclear future regarding preservation. Genealogists and genealogy societies play a vital role in influencing Federal records management and participants will come away with new information and key action steps targeting both the USCIS Genealogy Program and the National Archives.
I also have an on-demand talk, The Alphabet Soup of Naturalization Records: Meet the P-File. This session introduces researchers of 20th Century immigration to the Petition File, a document that exists (or once existed) for immigrants who started the naturalization process between 27 September 1906 and early 1950. P-files, created by US Naturalization Examiners for every Petition for Naturalization filed, can provide a good deal of information on the applicant, sometimes information available nowhere else. These files, accessible only via a complicated FOIA request, are in the custody of USCIS, and scheduled for destruction in 2050.
These sessions are available to all conference attendees. The live panel will also be available as part of the conference recording package.
The two-hour panel session will introduce researchers to Certificate Files (C-Files), Visa Files and Registry Files, Alien Registration Forms and A-files. We will work to untangle the misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the records created by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The session will help participants understand the fee-based USCIS Genealogy Program, what might be found duplicated in court records, and what might be at the National Archives. We’ll discuss the content of the records, value to genealogical research, and unclear status regarding preservation and future researcher access. Despite the interest in these records, and advocacy for them, future access to USCIS records remains in jeopardy if the community does not continue to work to protect the records.
I also have an on-demand talk, Three is Not the Magic Number: Better Ways to Add Up Evidence and Improve Analysis. Finding three examples of a piece of information equals a fact is a genealogy myth. This presentation breaks apart the notion of three, and replaces it with using documents to learn definitions of primary and secondary information, original and derivative source documents, and direct and indirect evidence – all part of using the Evidence Analysis Process Map to weigh and analyze the evidence before making a conclusion.
Examples of how the “rule of three” can result in incorrect conclusions will be discussed in case studies, which will also help participants understand how to build research plans, equaling better research, better conclusions and fewer genealogy “do-overs.” The records discussed in this presentation will focus on those easily available for a newer researcher: vital records (birth, marriage, death), headstones, Census records, immigration and naturalization records, Social Security number applications, and military draft cards.
US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) currently holds millions of records that should be accessible from the National Archives. The USCIS Genealogy Program, begun with the best of intentions, no longer functions, resulting in a difficult, time-consuming and very expensive process for genealogists, historians and everyday researchers to access immigration records of the late 19th and 20th century.
Previously, we fought back on the USCIS proposal to hike fees to access the records. Now, USCIS wants to hear from the public to identify barriers between their services and our satisfaction. The window of opportunity to tell USCIS about all the problems with the Genealogy Program closes on 19 May 2021.
Effective comments require specific feedback. Comments must address one or more of the 17 questions posed by USCIS. Comments must include reference to the Code of Federal Regulations. This sounds difficult, but it isn’t. The team at Records, Not Revenue (of which I am a part) outlined three steps to help you provide effective comments on the USCIS Genealogy Program.
If you are ready to take action now, click here. Remember, the deadline is 19 May 2021
If you want to know a bit more, continue reading….
USCIS focuses on citizenship and immigration services. Before it was USCIS, it was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and before that, the Bureau of Immigration. These agencies created heaps and heaps of records that provide important and interesting details on our ancestors’ lives.
The Genealogy Program at USCIS, created to help genealogists, historians and researchers access these old records, no longer effectively services the records nor the community. In fact, historical records and records management are not mentioned in the USCIS Mission Statement, nor is the Genealogy Program, historic records or records management listed in the USCIS Core Values.
Anyone who tries to order records from the USCIS Genealogy Program knows that the program currently exists as an afterthought, a burden, as illustrated in this info graphic
I experienced this process while working to obtain files on my grandfather. I submitted an index request, and then had to submit a FOIA request, after paying for the index search. Then, I received the documents, poorly scanned, redacted and delivered on obsolete technology. This is just one example of the challenges researchers face in obtaining the records.
The home for historic records is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). USCIS has signed legal agreements to transfer many of their historic records and accompanying index to NARA, but has so far failed to uphold these agreements.
There is a solution: USCIS must transfer the historic records (and accompanying index) of our ancestors, as they are legally bound, and do it without further delay. The records that are not subject to transfer and are open for research must be serviced by trained professionals who understand the complicated history of the agency and the records under its care.
Access to historical records is essential to any researcher, family historian or genealogist. Looking at records gives us information, but some records also give us the little details that bring personality and character to someone we might only know on paper.
The USCIS Genealogy Program maintains records on our immigrant ancestors – millions of people, millions of stories – trapped behind a paywall that might skyrocket if their proposed fees are put into place.
In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.
If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file. The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing. If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.
Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.
You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:
Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here.There’s a summary available at RecordsNotRevenue.com
Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin.
Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 30 DECEMBER 2019 to
Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!