History and Genealogy
Searching the Index Frequently Asked Questions
Since 1893, federal immigration and naturalization agencies have created and maintained a variety of records for immigrants. These agencies often converted an immigrant’s records from one kind to another; because of this you will need an index search unless you are certain that:
Access to USCIS records and indices is restricted for purposes of both law enforcement and privacy. While described as “historical,” the oldest indices include information dated as recently as 1975. Open access to such personal information about living persons would constitute a clear violation of the Privacy Act that protects us all.
Persons in our index are those for whom the agency:
Another way to describe the persons in our index are those who:
Our goal is to find any and all information helpful to genealogical researchers. Even in cases where no match is found, we may try to explain why there is no record or try to find a record for another family member named in the request.
USCIS Genealogy index searchers always begin by reviewing each request for completeness and to identify clues to possible records. They then search the automated index by name, narrowing search results by date of birth, place of residence, country of birth, or other factors. Because different data fields are available for different file types, searchers modify their search several times to identify possible records.
Once one or more files are identified, searchers then work to determine if the file still exists, and if so, where. For example, some C-Files are split between a portion on microfilm and another portion in paper form. Cards representing paper C-files are searched to identify all C-File parts. Other file numbers may be searched again in a separate database or hard copy volumes to determine the file’s current location. If the Genealogy Program identifies a file available from the program in our search results, but later cannot find the file, a refund is due. For this reason we exhaust all efforts to ensure the file exists and can be found.
USCIS Genealogy Index Search Requests are fulfilled in the form of a letter reporting the search results. All file references found in the index are identified with instructions and additional information necessary to request the file(s) from the USCIS Genealogy Program, the Freedom of Information Program, the National Archives, or a State or local courthouse.
The indices contain many references to files that no longer survive. When a file no longer exists the Index Search Request response letter will provide all information available from the index record and explain that the file is no longer available.
Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/19/2013