by Cheri Mello

The Immigrant

At some point in time, your paper trail will lead you to the inevitable:  the immigrant.  This could be your source of joy, your brick wall, or the thorn in your side.  Any way you look at it, you are going to begin to have a more difficult time.  The following will take you though some sources that you will need to try to get an island and town. Some of these are more obscure sources and the librarians may not be of much help.  Think of it like this: You are now a pioneer!

1. Naturalization Records (written by Larry Bowles of the Genealogy Forum on AOL, edited for space by Cheri Mello)  If you are lucky enough, your immigrant ancestor became a U.S. citizen.  Or maybe he meant to become one, but never quite finished. You can obtain the paperwork your ancestor filled out to become a U.S. Citizen.  Before 1906, it is on microfilm, orderable from your FHC.  After 1906, you need to fill out a G-639 form (FOIA/PA--Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act), available from the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), NARA (National Archives Records Administration), online at or many FHCs.  Or write to:  I.N.S. F.O.I.A. , Room 5340, 425 I Street N.W.,  Washington D.C. 20536.  Follow the instructions on the form when it arrives. 

The naturalization paperwork has 3 parts to it:  the Declaration of Intention or First Papers, the Petition for Citizenship (Second or Final Papers) and the Certificate of Naturalization.  The older Declarations show name, country of birth, date of application, date and port of arrival in the U.S.   The later records after 1880 (depending on the court) will contain: name, address, occupation, birthplace, nationality, country from which emigrated, birth date or age, personal description, date of intention, marital status, last foreign residence, port of entry, name of ship, date of entry, and date of document.   Three to 5 years later, the immigrant will seek a Petition for Citizenship repeating much of the same information as the Declaration.  These papers include the name, address, occupation, date emigrated, birthplace, country from which emigrated, birth date or age, time in the U.S., date of Intention, name and age of spouse, names of children, ages of children, last foreign residence, port and mode of entry, name of ship, date of entry, names of witnesses, date of document, address of spouse.  The last document, the Certificate of Naturalization is an actual certificate making the immigrant a citizen of the United States.  Most usually contain the applicant's name, country of origin, renunciation of former allegiance and certification that the individual is henceforth an American citizen.

One unusual (but lucky for some) collection was done by the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930s where they managed to photocopy all the PRE1906 naturalization records and to index them for the four New England states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  The period covered is 1787 to 1906.  These are in the National Archives together with a card index (Soundex System).  Contact the National Archives in Washington D.C. for these four states.  If your ancestor lived in New Jersey you will find naturalization records from 1749 through 1810 in the state library.  In Massachusetts, naturalizations from 1885 to 1931 are on file in the Archives Division at the State House in Boston.  (The New Bedford Public Library has the naturalization indices from MA, RI, ME, NH, and VT from 1791 to 1906.)


Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor by James C. Neagles and Lile Lee Neagles.  Published by Everton Publishers Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah 84321.


American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 17901985 by John J. Newman.  Order from: AGLL, P.O. Box 329 Bountiful, UT 840110329 (801) 2985358.  Order # A0120 $5.95 +$3.50 S&H. 


A Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States by Christina K. Schaefer.  Order from: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202 (800) 296-6687. $25 + $3.50 S&H)


The above are mostly likely available from your public library.




Regional INS offices (I, Cheri, am looking at a map.  If I am not sure, I will say "Appears to be...." Also, some numbers are skipped.)

  2   NH, MA, RI, CT:  INS, Government Center, JFK Building, Room 1700, Boston, MA 02203

  3   Appears to be Long Island:   INS, 26 Federal Plaza, Room 14102, New York, NY 10278

  4   PA, WV:  INS, 1600 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, PA 19130

  5   Appears to be western MD:  INS, Equitable Tower One, 100 S. Charles St, 12th Floor, Baltimore, MD, 21201

  6   FL:  INS, 7880 Biscayne Blvd.,  Miami, FL 33138

  7   NY:  INS, 130 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY 14202

  8   MI:  INS, 333 Mt. Elliott St., Federal Building, Detroit, MI 482074381

  9   WI, IL, IN:  INS, 10 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 600, Chicago, IL 60604

10   ND, SD, MN:  INS, 2901 Metro Dr., Suite 100, Bloomington, MN 55425

11   Appears to be KS, MO:  INS, 9747 N. Conant Ave., Kansas City, MO 64153

12   WA, panhandle of ID:  INS, 815 Airport Way South, Seattle, WA 98134

13   Appears to be northern CA down to the SLO, VEN, LA, and SB co. lines:  INS, Appraisers Building, 630 Sansome St., Room 232,  San Francisco, CA 941112280

14   Appears to be central TX:  INS, 8940 Four Winds Dr., San Antonio, TX 78239

15   Western TX, NM:  INS, 700 E. San Antonio, El Paso, TX 79901

16   Appears to be: SLO, SB, VEN, LA, SB, OR, RIV co., CA:  INS, 300 N. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

17   HI:  INS, 595 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96813

18   AZ, NV:  INS, 2035 N. Central, Phoenix, AZ 85004

19   WY, CO, UT:  INS, 4730 Paris St., Denver CO 80239

20   Appears to be northern TX, OK:  INS, 8101 N. Stemmons Fwy, Dallas, TX 75247

21   Appears to be NJ, DE, eastern MD:  INS, 970 Broad St., Federal Building, Newark, NJ 07102

22   ME, VT:  INS, 739 Warren Ave.,  Portland, ME 04103

24   OH:  INS, A.J.C. Federal Building, 1240 E. Ninth St., Room 1917, Cleveland, OH 44199

25   VA:  INS, 4420 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22203

26   NC, SC, GA, AL:  INS, MLK Federal Building, 77 Forsyth St. SW, Room 117, Atlanta, GA 30303

27   PR:  INS, Carlos Chardon St., Hato Rey, PR 00917

28   MS, LA, AR, TN, KY:  INS, 701 Loyola Ave., Room T8011, New Orleans, LA 70113

29   Appears to be NE, IA:  INS, 3736 S. 132nd St., Omaha, NE 68144

30   MT, southern half of ID:  INS, 2800 Skyway Dr., Helena, MT 59601

31   OR:  INS, Federal Building, 511 Northwest Broadway, Portland, OR 97209

32   AK:  INS, 620 E. 10th Ave., Suite 102, Anchorage, AK 99501

38   Eastern part of TX that touches the Gulf of Mexico:  INS, 509 North Belt, Houston, TX 77060

39   Appears to be SD & IMP co. in CA:   INS, 880 Front St., Suite 1234, San Diego, CA 92188

40   Southern tip of  TX:  INS, 2102 Teege Road, Harlingen, TX 785504667


2. Alien registration (co-written by Cheri Mello and Marian Smith of the DC INS) -

If your ancestor did not become an U.S. citizen and was still alive in 1940, you may find WW II alien registration records a useful alternative to the naturalization records. Alien registration was simply a requirement imposed on any alien living in or arriving in the United States after June 1940.  Many of those who registered subsequently naturalized.


The Alien Registration Act of 1940 (or the Smith Act) required all non-citizens 14 years or older to register at their local Post Office or Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office beginning in June 1940.  There were severe penalties for non-compliance.  In the first year of the program, the INS registered many millions of resident aliens, many of whom had immigrated as early as the 1880's.  In the case of these early arrivals, this may be the only record the INS has of that individual.  At the same time, beginning June 1940, all immigrants arriving in the US had to perform Alien Registration when they applied to immigrate.  This still continues today. 


Alien Registration records for registrations from 1940-1944 were microfilmed by the INS for internal use only.  INS FOIA (Freedom of Information Act office) makes "prints" from this microfilm in response to requests, and they call the copies "AR (Alien Registration) prints."  They are also referred to as AR records (not to be confused with AR cards).  Beginning in 1944, all Alien Registration records were to be filed in the immigrant's A-File.  Thus one can get an Alien Registration record for an immigrant who came after 1944, but it probably won't be an "AR print" from the microfilm.  These AR records have quite a bit of information, just like a Declaration of Intent for U.S. citizenship.  Some records may be found in the INS' district offices (listed elsewhere), but since the INS is a large bureaucracy, it is beyond the scope of this article to explain every possibility. It is recommended that you send your request to the Washington address, because they are more familiar with genealogists' needs and are better able to locate genealogically useful information.


Some of the items found on a Alien Registration form are: names; date of birth; birth place; marital status; description; port of entry to U.S. and date; name of vessel; passenger, crew member, stowaway, other; residency; arrival date; how many years in the U.S.; occupation; memberships or activities in clubs, organizations, or societies; military in country, branch, dates; applied for citizenship papers or not, dates for 1st and 2nd papers; parents, spouse, children in the U.S.  Then there is an affidavit with a right index finger print and signature of registrant.


To get this information, make your request on the INS' G-639 FOIA form (available from the INS or possibly your local FHC).  Ask for the Alien Registration as well as any other record related to your ancestor.  You must provide at least the immigrant's full name, date of birth and place of birth on the G-639 form.  Of course, the most helpful piece of information to the INS is your ancestor's alien registration number.  Make sure you fill it in if you have it.  Due to the commonality of Portuguese names, it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish one immigrant from another.  If you have checked the city directories and have your ancestors' address for 1940, it may be of help.  Also, if your ancestor was born less than 100 years ago, it is necessary to enclose evidence of their death (i.e. a copy of the death certificate of copy of an obituary).


Mail the FOIA form to: INS, FOIA Officer, 425 I (the letter, not one) Street, NW, Washington, DC 20536.  Make sure you ask for a MANUAL search.  In 2-3 weeks on average, you should receive your receipt and INS FOIA case tracking number.  It may be several months before receiving a response to your request (They have as many as 3,000-4,000 cases pending at a time).


3. Social Security Records   If your immigrant ancestor received Social Security, you may write and get the form that they used to apply for Social Security. Some of the items found on an SS-5:  full name; full given name at time of birth; age; date of birth; place of birth (city, county, state); father's full name regardless of living or dead; mother's full name regardless of living or dead; business name and address; and other miscellaneous information. This form costs $7 if you know the Social Security number (you can get that off of the death certificate or from the Social Security Death Index at your local FHC.)  If you don't know the number, it's $16.50.  Some facts to note: your ancestor must have worked after 1937.  If your ancestor was selfemployed (the Social Security Administration abbreviates it as S/E), they would have applied around 1955.  Also, the Social Security Administration has the SSA9638 form.  The items found on the SSA-9638 are the same as the SS-5.  So, if your immigrant ancestor had a Social Security number, ask for the SS5, or if unable to locate, then the SSA9638.  Mail your request to: Office of Controller of Record Operations, The FOI Workgroup, P.O. Box 17772, 300 N. Green St.,

 Baltimore, MD 21201.


4. World War I Draft Registration  These can be found in the FHC under U.S. Military Records, WWI, State, County, or at the local NARA (National Archives Records Administration) where your ancestor filed.  All males were required to register, whether they were a citizen or not.  (I have seen a female "accidently" register her name instead of her husband's).  In June 1917, men who were 18 years old registered.  Then in June 1918, men 1821 years old registered.  The 3rd registration was in Sept. 1918 for men 1845 years old. There are about 24 million registration cards. The cards ask 20 questions.  Some of the items found: name (first, middle, last); age; date of birth; native born; naturalized; citizen by father's naturalization; alien declarant or non-declarant; if not a citizen of the U.S. of what nation are you a citizen or subject; occupation; employer info.; nearest relative info., and signature.  On the film, in the second column, you will see the registrar's report.  It asks for a description of the person.  Items included here are things such as height, build, hair and eye color, and physical disformations.  The forms changed from registration to registration.  So far, I have seen forms 1 and 4.  Not all forms ask for the nearest relative.


5. Passport Records  Your immigrant ancestor most likely would have needed an American passport if he/she traveled back to the "old country."  This means he/she would have become naturalized and filled out a passport application.  Some information that could appear on an application (this one is 1913): name, spouse, minor children including their birth dates, applicant's place and date of birth, ship came on and where and when it departed, resided in the U.S. for how many years including dates and places, the court in which naturalized (Superior, Circuit, etc.) including city of the court and date naturalized, where they are currently residing, occupation, how long traveling, and then an oath of allegiance signed by the applicant.  Then below that, is a description of the applicant.  The FHL has 2,090 rolls of film of these applications from 1795-1925, which you can order through your local FHC.  The years of 1830-1831, 1850-1852, and 1860-1925 are indexed.  The applications are broken down into 1- or 2-month increments arranged chronologically for each year.  If you know the year and not the month, you may have to look through 6 or 7 rolls of film.  For applications after 1925, you will have to write to: Passport Office, Dept. of State, 1425 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20520.  You MUST enclose a copy of the applicant's death certificate as well as the approximate time period the applicant would have applied.  (It took 2 months to receive mine.)  Some of the items found on a later application (this one is 1964):  full name, address, date of birth, place of birth, description, approximate departure date, occupation, persons to be included in this passport (asks for a group photo) including spouse's full name and all children's names, places and dates of birth, when the resided in the U.S., previous passport info., father and mother's names, their place and date of birth and if a U.S. citizen, if married (date), to whom, and when and where that spouse was born, if spouse is an U.S. citizen, and if the marriage is or isn't terminated and why (death or divorce including the date).  (If a woman was previously married before March 3, 1931 she has to state the same as above for her former spouse.)  Also included is traveling info. and whom to notify in the event of accident or death (this was blacked out due to privacy).  A separate page had to be completed for a naturalized citizen containing immigration and naturalization info.  Other pages are for applicants who are U.S. citizens through parents or husband.  These pages contain lots of info.


6. Fraternal Societies  The Portuguese started these societies to protect widows and

orphans as well as for cultural activities.   These societies, such as UPEC (UniĆ£o Portuguese do Estado da California), IDES (Irmandade do Divino Espirto Santo), SES (Sociedade do Espirto Santo) among others, keep membership and death rosters.  These rosters can be a valuable source of information.  They could give the town your ancestor was from, as well as their correct Portuguese name.  Many of our ancestors belong to more than one.  Those who were interested in keeping their heritage would join.  To access these records, you need to write to the society that your ancestor belonged to.  In CA, most of the records were filmed.  Your local FHC has them.   Look under: Portuguese  California, then California  Vital Records then, California  Business records and Commerce then, California  Minorities  Societies then, California  Societies for membership and "Death Claim Registers" for the death.


For the membership rosters, you will need to know approximately the city where your ancestor was living.  To use these, you will need to copy down the Council number (you'll need it to use the Death Registers).  Some have multiple volumes.  You will need to check ALL with your town name.  (Large cities, such as Oakland, have more than 1 volume).  Also, if the membership rosters were rewritten, some of the information may have changed.  For example, if your ancestor was single when he joined, his beneficiary maybe a parent or sibling.  If the roster was recopied, they may list him as married and his wife or children as beneficiaries. 


If your ancestor still belonged to the society when he died, you will find him in the Death

Registers.  Not all of our ancestors belonged for life.  A few may have joined only for months.


Kathy Cardoza ( has had experience with these.  The following is reprinted with her permission.


My own experience with this type of record is limited to the UPEC records of California.  I searched LDS film No. 1577856. It has many different councils listed there and I found one great-grandfather in those records. It listed his name, age, single or married, occupation, current city of residence, place of origin (usually only the island, but sometimes the village too ),  and their beneficiary (usually spouse, parent, or children).  Unfortunately for me, the council I wanted for two of my great grandfathers was missing from this film. It was, however, at the UPEC office so I wrote to them in San Leandro. They were very helpful in sending me copies of the records I wanted and I was able to look at the records myself when I visited their office. I also searched the LDS film No. 1577852, which includes the Death Claims Register for the UPEC of California, 19161937. This typically gives more death related info  their date of death, beneficiary, info about their insurance amounts, etc., and reason for death.


7. Passenger Arrival Lists  Part 1: Customs Passengers Lists (1820-c.1890s).  In 1820 through the turn of the century (depending on the port), records were kept of people arriving on vessels.  These are referred to as the Customs Passengers Lists (note: some ports had weight limits for baggage.  "Baggage Lists" were kept if baggage was over the limit).  These Customs lists document 20,000,000 people.  These lists were to contain the name, age, sex, occupation, country to which belonged, and where the person intended to become an inhabitant.  Also, a special column for deaths enroute, date and circumstance of death was included.  This information on the passengers was in addition to the information on the ship: name of vessel, port of embarkation, arrival and date, and the master of the ship.  These lists were given to the collector of the customs district where the ship arrived.  Abstracts of these lists were give to the State Dept. (until 1874, then statistical reports were given to the Secretary of the Treasury).  All of these lists were obtained by the National Archives in Washington, DC, although, not all are indexed yet.  In 1890, the Secretary of Treasury ended its contract and the federal government took over  the Bureau of Immigration.


The five major ports of that time period were Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans.  In existence are other Atlantic and Gulf ports. 


To search Customs Lists at your local FHC, you need to know the full, original, Americanized and nicknames / alcunhas of your immigrant.  The person overseas filling out the manifests may not spell the name correctly.  Or, if it was not a native Portuguese person filling out the manifests, they may have Americanized it.  Check for women under both maiden and married names (if they had one).  Also, check under the names of others that your immigrant traveled with.  Also, you will need the age at arrival and the approximate date of arrival (the closer the better).  You can obtain this information from family tradition, passports, obituaries, naturalization records, Homestead Act of 1862, etc. 


You can access these Customs Lists via index.  Some indices were created by the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930's.  Not all ports are indexed, however.  Some indices overlap.  Most indices are alphabetical or soundexed.  For the de, da, d' prefixes, refer to the National Archives publication "Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals," page 163.  Also, some indices are in book form. 


If you are unable to find your ancestor, check for others that came with him or her.   Also, check New York.  Many who arrived went to NY where they were counted and then went to another port.  Check under both ports. 


Part 2: Immigration Passenger Lists (c. 1890s-1950s).  Due to the hazardous conditions coming to America, a series of laws were passed which affected the information on the manifests.  The captain had to report name, age, sex, occupation, country to which belonged, where passenger intended to become an inhabitant, whether any passenger and what number died, and the part of vessel the passenger occupied.  This report was in effect until 1882.


Due to more laws, the captain had to report names, age sex, occupation, and the new one: the country of which the passenger was citizen.  Steerage manifests were the same except that they asked for native country and intended destination.


In 1890, the Secretary of the Treasury ended its contract and the Federal government took

complete control.  They created the Bureau of Immigration.  This is why and where we start to see many changes take place.  In 1893 a more detailed manifest was implemented:  full name, age, sex; married or single; occupations; whether able to read and write; nationality; last residence; seaport for landing in the U.S.; final destination; ticket to final destination; passage paid by whom; how much money; going to join relativewho, including name and address; if in U.S. before and when and where; in prison, almshouse or supported by charity; polygamist; under contract to perform labor in U.S.; and health (mentally and physically).  In March 1903, race was added and the exclusion list included epileptics, anarchists, beggars, people with 2 or more attacks of insanity, and prior deportees.


In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was created.  The manifests were then changed to include personal description and birthplace.  In 1907 they added the name and address of the nearest relative in overseas country. 


In the 1940's, the INS began the filming which was "carried out over a period of years."  It is thought to be complete.  Within the last 10 years, more lists were found in the Washington, DC National Records Center in Suitland, MD. 


The films are orderable from your FHC.  They are arranged by port of entry, then date of arrival, then the ship.  You will need to know the port and date if you are searching by index.  If you are not going to use the index (or it was of no help), you will need to know the port and either the date or the ship.  Luckily, most Passenger Lists are indexed.  In more modern times, flight manifests exist (for NY). 


A word about Canada:  From 1895, about 40% of people going to Canada had a final destination in the U.S.  They may have been denied entry at the U.S. ports.  Also, it was cheaper to enter through Canada.  Some U.S. officials needed to be stationed at Canadian ports.  These have been filmed too. (18951954).


To search the Passenger Lists, you will need to first check the indices (books and film) for your names and ports.  If you find the name, then go get the film for that manifest.  However, if you are not that lucky, or they are not in the index, check  "Registry of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports 17891919."  This includes the name of the vessel, country of origin, type of rig, date of entry, master's name, and last port of embarkation.  Some years the ships are arranged chronologically, in others alphabetically, and sometimes, even by steamship line.


If you know the name of the ship, you can search by film (M1066) for all the dates it came in.  Earlier ships didn't make as many crossings as did a steamship, so there will be less to search.  You can also use this same film to search by dates.  You can use it to search via port of embarkationjust eliminate all the nonPortuguese ports.  Part of this film is in book form titled, "Passenger Ships Arriving in New York Harbor (18201850)."  Future volumes are being planned.  You may also need to consult the MortonAllen Directory for NY 18901930, and for Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia for 19041926.  Film M334 has some Boston (18201847), New Orleans (18201850) as well as some Philadelphia and Baltimore.


"Jumping ship" refers to a crew member entering the U.S. without a document.  If your ancestor "jumped ship" you will want to check crew lists for Boston (19171943), New Bedford (19171943), New York (18971957) and others.  The lists vary in information given.



Tepper, Michael.  American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to the Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988, 1993).


Colletta, John P.  They Came in Ships. (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 1989, 1993).

Copyright 1998 by Cheri Mello.  All rights reserved 

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