How can the 1929 Registry help me find my ancestor's missing arrival records?

The Registration Act of 1929 may be the only alien registration designed to benefit immigrants rather than just identify them as potential enemies. If you have been unable to locate arrival records for your twentieth century immigrant ancestor, the 1929 Registry may help -- if you ancestor was living in 1929 and not yet naturalized. (The 1920 U.S. Federal Census can help you determine this.)

In the early twentieth century, in addition to the five-year residency requirement, immigrants were required to document their arrival in the U.S. to apply for naturalization. In many cases, arrival records did not exist or were lost, which prevented many from applying. The problem was significant enough that the federal government passed the Registration Act of 1929, aimed at helping immigrants toward naturalization. Essentially, the registration allowed immigrants for whom no arrival record could be found to have an arrival record created. A little like the process of filing for a delayed birth certificate, proofs and witness were required to document the event.

The 1929 Registration was the first "legalization program" authorized by Congress, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The main benefit of the file is just finding your ancestor on the list. In addition are the proofs contained in the file, first and foremost, evidence of your ancestor's arrival in the U.S. Also included are names, dates, places, employment, applications, personal testimony, miscellaneous evidence, correspondence, photo of the applicant, and the decision granting or denying the request. Information on other persons mentioned in the file may not be available, owing to privacy laws -- the names may be stricken but the proofs will be there.

"Registry Files survive in their original paper form," according the USCIS, which means they have not been microfilmed nor digitized. However, access is available through the USCIS Genealogy Program, for a moderate fee. And if the immigrant's Registry File (R-File) later became an A-File (1940 alien registration) or C-File (naturalization), those records will be provided at no extra charge. Owing to limitations of the index, be sure to provide as much information as possible on your ancestor to aid in the search.

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