Why did my immigrant ancestor have to register as an enemy in WWI?

Throughout history, dating back to ancient times, governments and monarchies have perceived threats from within and taken measures to protect sovereignty. Unfortunately, there is collateral damage along the way -- innocent people caught in the middle. Of course the Japanese internment of WWII comes to mind. But there were other incidents in the twentieth century, as well, including the Alien Act of 1940 and Registry Act of 1929.

In the heat of WWI, non-naturalized citizens -- "enemy aliens" by definition -- were required to register with U.S. authorities in the interest of national security. This included all non-citizen males over the age of 14, and their wives, even those women born in the United States but married to non-citizens. The registration focused primarily on non-citizen German residents, but included Italians and other nationalities, as well. The information derived from this registration included immigration, birth and parentage, names of family members, address, occupation and employer; residents were also asked if they were sympathetic to the enemy and the names of any relatives serving in enemy forces. Registrations included a physical description, fingerprints and photograph.

According to the National Archives, most of these records were destroyed by authorization of Congress in the 1920s, but some survive, including state and/or local records for Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Phoenix, Arizona, and others that are scattered, some through state libraries and archives and elsewhere.

In September 2010, the U.S. National Archives released some 300,000 Kansas, Registration Affidavits of Alien Enemies, 1917-1918, now available online.

These records are also available at the and the Central Plains Region, in Kansas City, Missouri and at the Kansas State Historical Society (on microfilm).

The 1910 U.S. Federal Census can be used to help verify your ancestor's citizenship status prior to WWI Enemy Alien Registration, keeping in mind women and children derived citizenship from their husbands and fathers. The 1920 census specifically asks the Year of Naturalization -- in using both census returns, you may be able to determine your ancestor's citizenship status in 1918.

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