08 June 2014

Revisiting manifests - back to the sources

I was reminded in reflecting on my recent post "His name was changed at Ellis Island!" of the need to always go back to original sources. I often use the "Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations" JewishGen InfoFile - a wonderfully comprehensive resource - for help evaluating information on manifests.[1] But, as an authored work it's not the end, but the beginning.

It seems that in my post regarding David Ett's 1907 Ellis Island manifest, I'd identified a manifest notation not covered in the "Manifest Markings" InfoFile. Thank you, Marian L. Smith, Chief, Historical Research Branch, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), for contacting me and suggesting that, in trying to understand why David's name was blocked out, I consider the Registry provision of the Immigration Act of March 2, 1929.[2]

What I'd read on David Ett's manifest entry as "Leg 223291," is actually "Reg 22320."[3] [Although, I have to admit that while I'm usually pretty good at deciphering handwriting, but I still can't see the first letter as an R - oh, well!] I added, incorrectly, "91" at the end of the number due to part of a letter from the blocked out name, below. According to Smith, this notation is an indication that David underwent Registry proceedings that may have been related to the discrepancy between his name on his immigration record and the one he had been using since. The notation indicates the verification (VL) was done in response to Registry application #22320. 

As is true for most post-1906 archived naturalization records, an application number has nothing to do with the number under which related documents are actually filed.[4] Smith was kind enough to provide David's R-file number (the information is not in his C-File, as I'd initially hoped) and I immediately ordered a copy of the file's contents via the USCIS Genealogy Program online ordering system. From a little bit of research I've done, I anticipate that the file may include many names, places and dates. I await the (I hope hefty) file.

While I wait, it's a perfect time to learn more about the 1929 Act, the Registry provision and the types of records and information registration generated.


Immigration and Naturalization Laws

Legislators often have to backtrack to deal with law they have not passed: the law of unintended consequences. Such is the case with the history of many of our immigration and naturalization laws.[5] While some laws were enacted and effective in terms of legislative intent, others created new problems not foreseen. Sometimes these issues lead to corrective actions. For genealogists, corrections, whether by law or regulation, often lead to creation of new records or information. The Registry of Aliens' Act of March 2, 1929 (45 Stat 1512; P.L. 70-962) included corrective action that created records from which genealogists may benefit. But first, a little history.

The 1906 Immigration Act

The Immigration Act of June 29, 1906 (34 Stat. 596; PL 59-338) included many interesting provisions, including
  • establishing jurisdiction and standardization for immigration and naturalization under the newly formed Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization within the Department of Commerce and Labor;[6]
  • allowing aliens to change their names, officially, via the naturalization procedure; 
  • capturing and recording individual immigration in alien register books placed at ports of entry in the United States;
  • issuing certificates of arrival during the naturalization process. 
When an immigrant who had arrived after 29 June 1906 filed his or her petition for naturalization, Bureau clerks would check records at entry ports and provide the particulars of the immigrant's arrival. They would verify arrival with both notations on manifests and issuance of certificates of arrival. The  certificate of arrival was a required document and was filed with the petition during the naturalization process. 

The 1921 Emergency Quota and the 1924 Immigration Act

The  Emergency Quota Act of May 19, 1921 (42 Stat. 5; P.L. 67-5) and the Immigration Act of May 26, 1924 (43 Stat. 153; P.L. 68-139) were the beginning of the end for busy processing centers such as Ellis Island.[7] Quotas for immigration were established - initially at three per cent of a nationality's representation in the 1910 U.S. census, and later, as a result of the 1924 Act, at 2 per cent of the 1890 figure. Exceptions to the quota were allowed in cases of immigrants who were spouses or minor children of citizens. But, immigration from southern and eastern Europe slowed to a trickle. 

As a result of the 1924 Act Ellis Island's immigrant processing role became an anachronism. The Act established a visa system to limit entry to the U.S. to be managed overseas in U.S. Consulates. Visa information was to be entered on the passenger manifest. Since the intensive review occurred overseas, it was no longer necessary to process immigrants at Ellis Island.

Legislative changes that culminated in the Acts of 1921 and 1924, severely restricting what had been open immigration, gave rise not only to immigrant smuggling after 1921, but also to problems for those already living in the U.S. who could not, for one reason or another, provide proof of legal entry before June 1921.

Certificates of arrival had become key to establishing legality of one's entry and to successfully completing the citizenship process. Citizenship was a requirement for acquiring preferential non-quota visas for entry of relatives. In addition, if a resident alien in the United States wished to travel outside the U.S. he or she had to apply for a Permit to Reenter after Temporary Absence before embarking. Issuance of the permit was based on a finding that the alien had entered the U.S. legally  (typically proven with a certificate of arrival). If an immigrant did not possess this permit, they might be subject to the quota system when they tried to return.

There were often good reasons why immigrants who'd arrived before June 1921 might not be able to show evidence of legal entry. These included:
  • Land entry via Canada. If a Canadian or Canadian resident entered the United States via a Canada-United States land border crossing where the Bureau did not staff for in-depth inspections and registration, there might be no record of entry. Prior to enactment of the Act of 1921, aliens landing at Canadian ports who intended to continue on to the United States would be registered and inspected at those Canadian ports. Border crossings were often not staff similarly.[8]
  • Entry before records were kept; entry records could not be identified; or entry records had been lost or destroyed. There were those who had arrived legally before passage of the 1921 Act, but for whom no entry records could be located. Perhaps their record could not be located under the name they gave for naturalization. Since they could not get a certificate of arrival they could not naturalize.
  • Entry as a child or infant with no recollection regarding place or date of entry.
These people, otherwise viewed as good material for citizenship, were in limbo.

The Registry of Aliens' Act of March 2, 1929

The Registry of Aliens' Act of 1929 (45 Stat. 1512; P.L. 70-962), especially its registry provision, sought to provide relief for those who immigrated before June 1921, but who could not prove legal entry.[9] The Act 0f 1929 made the certificate of arrival a prerequisite for filing a Declaration of Intention. Under the Act of 1929, the Bureau could issue a certificate of arrival after an otherwise undocumented alien registered at ports of entry. Aliens could register providing they had:
  1. entered the United States prior to June 3, 1921;
  2. resided in the United States continuously since such entry;
  3. demonstrated they were of good moral character; and
  4. shown they were not subject to deportation. 
Once through the process and registered, the alien officially became a resident.

The Historical Library section of the USCIS website is a treasure trove of informative historical documents regarding the agency's management of immigration and naturalization. Through this resource I have checked regulations in effect after enactment of the Act of March 2, 1929. Regulations are important because they outline how a U.S. government Executive Branch agency or department intends to implement specific laws. I have checked several years (1929, 1932 and 1936) of regulations after enactment of the Act of 1929 and the same guidance is provided.[11]
Where an applicant for a declaration of intention or a petition for citizenship alleges entry into the United States prior to June 3, 1921, and the immigration authorities report that there is no record of admission for permanent residence, the applicant will be referred by the Naturalization Service to the nearest immigration officer for appropriate advice.[10]
While this in not very informative regarding the process, another document (recommended to me by Marian Smith) was a bit more helpful: "Legislative Background and Administration of the Registry of Aliens' Act of March 2, 1929" by Shaunessy.[12] Between this and the USCIS Genealogy Program pages outlining the registry process and records one might see in a registry file, I've been able to develop an idea of what I might ultimately see in David Ett's Registry file.
Form 659, the application of registry, was submitted to the local Bureau of Immigration office.  This four page form required detailed biographical information specific to parents' names, arrival in the U.S., employment, and residences. Information on the form was supplemented by employment verification, character references and affidavits, and criminal background checks. The Bureau held a hearing on each case. A "Findings" document recommended granting or rejecting registry. 

Shaunessy's paper, written for in-Service administrators, identifies a situation that could be applicable to Dave Ett's case: if an applicant applies for registry, but a record of admission exists (perhaps due to an alien entering the U.S. under an assumed name), then the alien would not be eligible for registry. Since Dave Ett's manifest entry (under the name Duvid Wenkert) was, ultimately, located and verified, perhaps his naturalization didn't require registry at all.

Overall, the Registry provision did not generate many eligible applicants. Shaunessy indicates that while there had been Congressional fears that 1.5 to three million people would be eligible, less than 45,000 certificates of registry were issued in the first four years after enactment.[13] The USCIS webpage states that they hold 250,000 registry files.[14] The USCIS page also includes clues to the existence of a particular alien's Registery file. Sometimes the clues are subtle. If you think you might have a registry case among those you are researching, I suggest you seek out the information USCIS provides.  

I look forward to receiving Dave Ett's file.

1. Marian L. Smith with the assistance of Elise Friedman, Flora Gursky, and Eleanor Bien, "Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations," JewishGen.org (http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/Manifests/ : accessed 28 May 2014).
2. Marian L. Smith, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, to Emily Garber, email, 4 June 2014, "David Ett and Registry," David Ett file, privately held by Garber, Phoenix, Arizona.
3. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 September 2009), manifest, Amerika, Hamburg to New York, arriving 10 November 1907, list 37, line 8, Duvid Ett, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial T715.
4. Zack A. Wilske, "Citizenship Matters: Bureau of naturalization Correspondence Files at the U.S. National Archives," Avotaynu, vol. 28, no. 4 (Winter 2012), pp. 3-7 
5. The following book is really a history of Ellis Island, but cannot help also being a history of U.S. immigration policy. Vincent J. Cannato, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island (New York: Harper, 2010).
6. Immigration and naturalization were made a federal responsibility under the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (establish under the Act), although local courts were still empowered as long as they followed federal rules, used federal forms and sent the paperwork to the Bureau.
7. Cannato, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island, p. 338.
8. Edw. J. Shaughnessy, "Legislative Background and Administration of the Registry of Aliens' Act of March 2, 1929," Lecture No. 4, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Labor, March 5, 1934, p. 4; United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Library ( : accessed 6 June 2014).
9. Later, the cut-off date was moved to 1 July 1924.
10. Bureau of Naturalization, Department of Labor, Naturalization, Citizenship and Expatriation Laws - Naturalization Regulations, July 1, 1929 (Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1929), p. 76; United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Library
1929 Regulations ( : accessed 6 June 2014).
11. The most important version of the regulations will be that in effect when Dave was processed for Registry. But, since I do not yet know the date, I cannot yet focus on that volume.
12. Shaughnessy, "Legislative Background and Administration of the Registry of Aliens' Act."
13. Shaughnessy, "Legislative Background and Administration of the Registry of Aliens' Act," p. 5. 
14. "Registry Files, March 2, 1929 - March 31, 1944," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, (http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/registry-files-march-2-1929-march-31-1944 : accessed 7 June 2014).

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