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Early Immigration Correspondence files (1882-1912)

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NARA Record Group 85, Entries 1-8

Location: National Archives (NARA), Washington, DC

Finding Aids: Reserve Index and various others (see below)

Upon its establishment in 1891 the Immigration Service inherited the files, and filing system of the Assistant Treasury Secretary who had previously overseen federal immigration policy. The new Immigration Service maintained the system and began incorporating its own correspondence into it. These early files, which were chronologically numbered, contain correspondence between field and headquarters officials, public correspondence, and policy documents.  The records cover all of the issues important to the new Immigration Service including administrative, legal, and fiscal matters, as well as individual immigrant cases.

Today the early correspondence records and associated indices make up entries 1-8 of RG 85.  The majority of the correspondence files themselves are found in entry 7, letters received 1882-1906, and entry 8, letters sent 1882-1912.  Entry 7 consists of letters received by the Secretary of the Treasury and then Commissioner of immigration arranged by letter number, 1 to 51609, with some files missing due to transfer to the “56,000 series” (see below).  Entry 8, letters received, is divided into three parts: The “E” series (2 vol.), which covers 1882-1887, is arranged chronologically, and contains an alphabetical index; the “T” series (14 vol.), which covers 1892-1903 and is also arranged chronologically; and the general letters sent series (342 vol.), which covers July, 1891 to March, 1912 and is arranged chronologically with most early volumes containing a full or partial alphabetical index. The general letters sent series duplicates much of the material in the “T” series, though at times it provides more complete coverage of administrative affairs.

Unfortunately, researchers seldom use these early records, largely because no single, easy to navigate index exists. The records are, however, partially indexed by the registry volumes that make up Entry 1, Register of Letter Received, 1882-1887 and Entry 3, Record of Correspondence/Registry of Letters Received, 1891-1903.  Together, these registers index large portions of Entry 7. Entry 1 registers are arranged chronologically and list the date, number, sender’s name and address, and subject for each letter. Entry 3 registers are arranged by date and letter number and list for each letter the subject, sender’s name and address, and, when appropriate, the volume and page number for the corresponding letter sent in Entry 8. Volumes 1-9 and 13-25 of Entry 3 contain alphabetical listings of subjects and correspondents. The indices for volumes 10-12 of Entry 3 make up Entry 2. In addition to the registers, there is the Entry 5 subject index, which covers correspondence from roughly 1900-1910. The 11 box index consists of 3x5 cards arranged by subject and within subjects by city (for example “Automobiles, Boston” to “Automobiles, Spokane”). The index, sometimes referred as the “Reserve Index,” references letters in Entry 7 and early “56,000 files” in Entry 9 described below.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/23/2013