History and Genealogy
Registry Files, March 2, 1929 - March 31, 1944
Registry Files document the creation of official immigrant arrival records under the Registry Act of March 2, 1929 (45 Stat 1512). The Registry Act applied to persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found. Because the Registry Program required applicants to document their arrival and subsequent residence in the country, Registry Files often contain significant biographical information about the subject immigrant.
The Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 first required a record of lawful entry/admission as a prerequisite to naturalization. The effect of the new law became apparent five years later, in 1911, when numerous immigrants were unable to naturalize because there was no record of their admission, or no such record could be found. These people could not naturalize until Congress provided relief with the Registry Act of 1929.
Registry Files document the first “legalization program” authorized by Congress. The law and program allowed immigrants subject to the Certificate of Arrival requirement for naturalization to have a record of their original arrival created after-the-fact when no arrival record could be found. Though dating after 1929, the records actually relate to immigrant arrivals occurring many years before. The initial Registry Program applied to immigrants who arrived before July 1, 1921. Later, as time passed, Congress moved the ending date progressively forward. Registry Files from 1929 to 1944 generally relate to immigrant arrivals between June 29, 1906 and July 1, 1924.
Immigrants applied for Registry through their local Bureau of Immigration (later Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS")) District Office. Immigration Officers investigated, took testimony, and compiled evidence. The record was then forwarded to Washington with a recommendation as to whether or not Registry should be granted.
The approximately 250,000 Registry Files remain in USCIS custody and survive in their original paper form. They contain applications, testimony, evidence, correspondence, a photo, and a decision granting or denying Registry. Registry Files are arranged by Registry File Number (i.e., R-#####) and indexed by name and number.
Registry Files are treasures for the lucky genealogists whose immigrant ancestors applied. The Registry application is full of dates, places, and names, an account of the immigrant's travel to the United States, and an accounting for their activities (employment, residence) since arrival. In addition to the application, the files typically hold correspondence, affidavits, testimony, and other related papers. Documentary evidence can include school records, insurance receipts, rental agreements, or anything establishing the immigrant's residence prior to July 1, 1924.
Index Search Values - Match a subject to a Registry File is often difficult because index entries for Registry Files contain only names and file numbers, and lack any information as to date and place of birth. This situation is often compounded by the fact that most immigrants underwent Registry proceedings so they might naturalize, yet their C-File index card makes no mention of the Registry or Registry File number. Successful searches will contain at least one alternate name, a date of birth, and the immigrant’s place of residence when he/she applied for Registry between 1929 and 1944.
Record Request Issues - There are 2 record request issues related to retrieval of Registry Files:
Registry File numbers are rarely found without a Genealogy Index Search Request. However, some R-numbers will be found on land border port card manifests now available on National Archives microfilm publications.
Cards from microfilmed records of arrivals at Laredo, TX (left) and from St. Albans, VT (right) include the Registry File number (circled in red) and the Certificate of Lawful Entry number (underlined in blue). Only the Registry File (R-#) number can be used to request a Registry File. Both cards above are from National Archives holdings and are no longer available from USCIS.
In occasional cases researchers will find hints suggesting the existence of a Registry File in other immigration or naturalization documents. In those cases a USCIS Genealogy Index Search request is required to obtain the Registry File number. Registry File hints, or clues, include:
1) granted after March 1929, and
2) indicates arrival after June 30, 1906,
3) aboard the “SS Unknown” or at an “unknown” port of entry, then the immigrant may have undergone Registry.
Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/17/2013