Jose Mier, The USCIS and Its Role in Genealogical Research

USCIS genealogy page Jose Mier Sun Valley

Jose Mier, pseudo-genealogist from Sun Valley, CA, looks for others around the globe with his same name. Real genealogists make use of various tools to find their family history. One such tool which Jose Mier only recently found is the USCIS genealogy program.

USCIS genealogy page Jose Mier Sun Valley
USCIS genealogy page Jose Mier Sun Valley

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a crucial component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), serves multiple roles in managing and overseeing the lawful immigration system of the United States. Established in 2003, USCIS handles a vast array of tasks, from processing naturalization applications to managing family-based and employment-based immigration petitions, asylum, and refugee admissions. Beyond these critical functions, USCIS also holds significant value for genealogical research, providing access to a wealth of historical immigration records that can help individuals trace their family histories and understand their ancestors’ journeys.

Overview of USCIS

Formation and Purpose

USCIS was created as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which reorganized several federal agencies in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The reorganization aimed to enhance national security and improve the efficiency of immigration services. USCIS assumed many functions previously handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), focusing on the administration of benefits and services related to immigration.

Core Functions

USCIS is responsible for:

  1. Processing Naturalization Applications: Helping immigrants become U.S. citizens through naturalization.
  2. Family-Based Immigration: Facilitating the immigration of family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
  3. Employment-Based Immigration: Managing petitions for foreign workers seeking employment in the United States.
  4. Asylum and Refugee Services: Providing protection to individuals fleeing persecution and managing refugee admissions.
  5. Verification of Employment Authorization: Ensuring that individuals working in the U.S. are authorized to do so.
  6. Immigration Records and Documents: Maintaining and providing access to immigration records and documents, which are invaluable for genealogical research.

USCIS and Genealogical Research

Genealogy, the study of family history and lineage, often requires access to historical records that document the movements and statuses of individuals over time. USCIS, with its extensive archives of immigration records, is a vital resource for genealogists.

Key Resources for Genealogists

USCIS provides several key resources that genealogists can use to uncover their family histories:

  1. Historical Immigration and Naturalization Records: USCIS maintains records of immigrants who entered the United States, naturalized citizens, and various other immigration-related documents.
  2. Genealogy Program: Established to assist researchers in accessing historical immigration records, the USCIS Genealogy Program provides a streamlined process for requesting these documents.
  3. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): FOIA requests allow genealogists to access records held by USCIS, including those not readily available through the Genealogy Program.

Historical Immigration and Naturalization Records

USCIS holds millions of historical records that can provide invaluable insights into an individual’s ancestry. Key records include:

  • Naturalization Records: Documents pertaining to the naturalization process, such as petitions, declarations of intention, and certificates of naturalization.
  • Alien Registration Forms: Records from the Alien Registration Act of 1940, which required non-citizens to register with the government.
  • Passenger Arrival Records: Lists of immigrants arriving at U.S. ports, which can include personal information such as age, occupation, and place of origin.
  • Visa Files: Records of individuals who were issued visas to enter the United States.

The USCIS Genealogy Program

The USCIS Genealogy Program was established to make historical immigration and naturalization records more accessible to researchers and family historians. This program provides access to records of deceased individuals, with records generally dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Services Provided

The USCIS Genealogy Program offers two main services:

  1. Index Search: For a fee, USCIS will conduct a search of their historical index to determine if there are records available for a specific individual. The index includes records from various sources, such as naturalization certificates, alien registration files, and visa applications.
  2. Record Request: If the index search confirms the existence of records, researchers can request copies of these records for an additional fee. The records can provide detailed information about the individual’s immigration and naturalization history.

Importance for Genealogical Research

The records provided by the USCIS Genealogy Program can offer a wealth of information for genealogists. For example, naturalization records often include personal details such as birth date and place, occupation, physical description, and family members. Alien registration forms and visa files can provide insights into an immigrant’s journey, including their reasons for immigrating and the challenges they faced.

Accessing USCIS Records

Accessing USCIS records can be a straightforward process, especially with the assistance of the Genealogy Program. However, researchers should be aware of the different types of records available and the specific procedures for requesting them.

Types of Records

  1. Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files): These files include records of naturalizations conducted in federal, state, and local courts between September 27, 1906, and March 31, 1956.
  2. Alien Registration Forms (AR-2 Files): Created under the Alien Registration Act of 1940, these forms were completed by non-citizens residing in the U.S. during the early 1940s.
  3. Visa Files: These files include records of visa applications and related documents from 1924 to 1944.
  4. Registry Files: Established by the Registry Act of 1929, these files document individuals who entered the U.S. before July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record existed.
  5. A-Files: Alien Files (A-Files) are individual records of immigrants maintained since April 1, 1944. They contain a variety of documents related to the individual’s interactions with USCIS and its predecessor agencies.

Procedures for Requesting Records

  1. Determine the Type of Record Needed: Researchers should identify the specific type of record that may hold the information they seek.
  2. Submit an Index Search Request: An index search can help locate records within the USCIS archives. This involves submitting a request form along with the required fee.
  3. Request Copies of Records: Once records are identified, researchers can submit a formal request for copies of these records. This typically involves another fee and may require additional information to verify the request.

Challenges and Considerations

While USCIS records are invaluable for genealogical research, there are challenges and considerations to keep in mind.

Access Restrictions

  • Privacy Concerns: Some records may be restricted due to privacy concerns, especially if they involve living individuals. Researchers should be prepared to provide evidence that the individual in question is deceased.
  • Time and Cost: The process of accessing USCIS records can be time-consuming and may involve multiple steps and fees. Patience and financial resources are often required.

Record Accuracy and Completeness

  • Variability in Records: The accuracy and completeness of historical records can vary. Information may be missing, incomplete, or inaccurately recorded due to clerical errors or the conditions at the time of record creation.
  • Contextual Understanding: Researchers should understand the historical and legal context in which records were created. This can help interpret the information correctly and understand its implications.

Case Studies and Examples

To illustrate the value of USCIS records in genealogical research, consider the following case studies:

Case Study 1: Tracing Immigrant Ancestors

A genealogist researching their great-grandfather’s immigration history uses the USCIS Genealogy Program to uncover a naturalization certificate file. The file reveals that their ancestor arrived in the U.S. in 1910 from Italy, settled in New York City, and became a naturalized citizen in 1922. The file includes details about his birth date, place of origin, occupation, and family members. This information not only helps trace the family lineage but also provides a deeper understanding of the ancestor’s life and experiences.

Case Study 2: Discovering Family Connections

A researcher investigating their grandmother’s mysterious past discovers an Alien Registration Form from the 1940s through a FOIA request. The form reveals previously unknown details about the grandmother’s journey from Poland to the United States, including her place of residence, employment, and reasons for leaving Europe. The form also lists the names of relatives who sponsored her immigration, providing new leads for further research and connections to extended family members.

The Future of USCIS and Genealogical Research

The role of USCIS in genealogical research is likely to evolve with advancements in technology and changes in record-keeping practices.

Digital Access and Online Resources

USCIS and other agencies are increasingly digitizing records and making them available online. This shift can greatly enhance access to historical immigration documents, making it easier for genealogists to obtain the information they need without lengthy wait times.

  • Online Databases: Platforms like and collaborate with government agencies to provide access to digitized immigration records. These partnerships expand the reach of USCIS records and make them more accessible to the public.
  • USCIS Electronic Reading Room: USCIS provides an electronic reading room where researchers can access frequently requested records and FOIA logs, offering a valuable resource for genealogical research.

Innovations in Record-Keeping

Advancements in record-keeping and data management will likely improve the accuracy and accessibility of immigration records. Innovations such as blockchain technology and advanced databases could enhance the security and traceability of records, ensuring that future generations can easily access their family histories.

  • Blockchain for Record Integrity: Blockchain technology could be used to maintain the integrity and authenticity of records, preventing tampering and ensuring a verifiable history of document changes.
  • Enhanced Metadata: Improved metadata practices can make it easier to search and locate specific records, streamlining the research process for genealogists.


The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plays a vital role in managing the lawful immigration system of the United States. Beyond its core functions, USCIS serves as a crucial resource for genealogical research, providing access to a wealth of historical immigration records that help individuals trace their family histories and understand their ancestors’ journeys.

The USCIS Genealogy Program and the ability to request records through FOIA offer researchers valuable tools to uncover personal details about their ancestors, from naturalization and immigration histories to family connections and personal stories. While challenges such as access restrictions and record accuracy must be navigated, the potential insights gained from these records are invaluable for building a comprehensive family history.

As technology advances and more records become digitized and accessible online, the role of USCIS in genealogical research is likely to expand, providing even greater opportunities for individuals to connect with their past. The continued preservation and accessibility of these records are essential for ensuring that future generations can uncover and celebrate their heritage, fostering a deeper understanding of the diverse and rich history that shapes the United States today.