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One more set identified

As those who joined The Legal Genealogist and Legacy Family Tree Webinars yesterday for “Martha Benschura: Enemy Alien” know now, when the United States entered World War I, a new rule was imposed on citizens of countries with which it was at war.

Section 4067 of the U.S. Revised Statutes, in effect when the United States entered World War I, provided that “all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of a hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured, and removed as alien enemies.”1

aliensThen Presidential Proclamation 1364, issued 6 April 1917, warned: “If necessary to prevent violation of the regulations, all alien enemies will be obliged to register.”2

By the Presidential Proclamation of November 16, 1917, registration of “[a]ll alien enemies,” women included, was required.3

So early in 1918, thousands upon thousands of German and Austrian nationals, residents of the United States but not naturalized, completed Registration Affidavits to comply with the law. Each individual, male and female, over the age of 14, completed a form that called for a ton of information:

• Name
• Present residence and length of residence there
• All other places of residence since 1914
• Birth place and date
• Employment since 1 January 1914
• Emigration information
• Names of parents and, if living, their residence
• Family details (spouse and children)
• Whether any male relatives were fighting for or against the United States
• Draft registration information and prior military service
• Naturalization status
• Criminal history
• Physical description
• Photograph
• Finger- and handprints

Every genealogist’s dream record, isn’t it?

The hitch, of course, is that not all of these records survive — most don’t — and there isn’t any one central repository. You can’t just contact the National Archives and ask for Great Grandma’s alien registration form. Oh, some are in the National Archives, for sure — affidavits from Kansas and Arizona are NARA Record Group 118, Records of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals, along with a few from North Carolina and Louisiana. The Kansas affidavits have been digitized and are available on Ancestry.com and Archives.gov.

But most of these records were locally held and, if they survive at all, they’re still at the local level. Registration forms for San Francisco, for example, are held by the San Francisco Public Library (and, fortunately, have been digitized by FamilySearch.org). Minnesota records are on microfilm at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul and at the Iron Range Research Center in Chisholm, Minnesota.

But there are bound to be others — not so well known, not so easy to find. Everyone who works with these records knows that the big problem for these World War I era records is finding the ones that do survive.

And almost as soon as the webinar ended, my email program pinged and in came a very welcome bit of information from reader Renee Carl of Washington, D.C., who noted that the Fort Wayne-Allen County (Indiana) Historical Society has some of these records from Fort Wayne, Indiana — and there’s a finding aid online at the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center website here: Genealogical Records of German Families of Allen County, Indiana, 1918.

The information is described this way:

The information transcribed in this data file came from the “Enemy Alien Registration Files” created by the Fort Wayne Police Department in 1918. A four page form was filled out which included a photograph, signature, and fingerprints along with other data. These forms (approximately 1,500) still exist and are part of the collections held at The History Center (Fort Wayne-Allen County Historical Society). The title at the top of the form is “United States of America, Department of Justice, Registration Affidavit of Alien Enemy.” Fort Wayne residents who were German or Austrian, and not American citizens were required to file.4

So at the Genealogy Center website, you can — for example — search for names that include “Schmidt” and get 11 hits for people whose names are, or include, Schmidt (from Messerschmidt to Waldschmidt and everything in between). Click on one of the links, and it takes you to the page of the original transcript where the information appears. An explanation of the abbreviations used appears at the top of each page.

And, of course, as good genealogists, we don’t want to use derivative sources when the originals are out there, so… looks like some folks with Indiana ancestors are going to need to join the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society: $35 a year for individuals, $30 for seniors. A single visit to its History Center to check out your family’s records will cost you $6 if you’re under 65 and $4 if you’re over.

A bargain, either way, given the goodies that await in these affidavits…


SOURCES

  1. See U.S. War Department, Committee on Education and Special Training, A Source-Book of Military Law and War-Time Legislation (St. Paul, Minn. : West Publ. Co., 1919), 643-644; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 20 May 2015).
  2. “A Proclamation,” 40 Stat. (Part II) 1650, 1652 (6 Apr 1917).
  3. “A Proclamation,” 40 Stat. (Part II) 1716, 1718 (16 Nov 1917).
  4. Genealogical Records of German Families of Allen County, Indiana, 1918; Allen County Public Library, Genealogy Center (http://www.genealogycenter.info : accessed 20 May 2015).
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