Spent the evening thinking about all the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land"
Letter From America, The Proclaimers
I recently received two records of my great-great-grandmother, who emigrated to the USA in 1929, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Section. I already had copies of the passenger list of the ship on which she sailed and her U.S. Naturalization Record Index card downloaded from Ancestry, so wasn’t sure how much new information these records would give, but decided to go ahead and order copies of all records held on her.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed as these records provide new information, details of several other relatives, give answers to some questions I had and, perhaps best of all, include two photographs.
The first record is her Visa File. This includes her Immigration Visa from the American Consular Service in Glasgow, Scotland with photograph, physical description, brief details of her minor children, the name and address of a married sister (her nearest relative in Scotland) and the fact that her ticket was paid for by her ‘intended husband’. Also included is a copy of her birth certificate and the details of when and where she arrived in the USA.
I knew that she had married not long after arriving in America but not for certain that she had gone with the intention of marrying and so this helped to explain her decision to emigrate. Her intended husband was the widower of her elder sister. A fellow Scot, he first went to America in the 1870s and had become a naturalized American Citizen but had returned to Scotland on several occasions, most recently in 1927.
The second record is her ‘C-File’ which includes her Petition for Citizenship and Certificate of Citizenship, granted in 1931. These provide another physical description and photograph, the date of her American marriage and the affidavits of two witnesses. One of the witnesses was a brother who (previously unknown to me) had emigrated to the USA in 1905. I’ve since been able to find a number of records of him online including his gravestone at Find A Grave.
The process for obtaining these records involves two steps - firstly an Index Search Request to find out if any records are held on a specific individual, and secondly a Record Copy Request (once you have the relevant file numbers). Details are given in a leaflet here.
It’s not a quick service (it took about 8 months from first submitting my index search request to receiving copies of the records) but in my case was well worth the wait. I’ve had difficulties in ordering records from America in the past (Which town clerk do I write to? How can I send payment in US Dollars? etc.) but in this case, as the request can be made online using a credit card, it is easy to access the service from outside the US. For me, the total cost was $75 US (about £48 GBP), although this will vary depending on the type and number of records held.
I would encourage other UK-based researchers with ancestors or collateral lines who went to America to give the service a try as these records can reveal details not only of a particular individual, but also of their extended family on both sides of the Atlantic.