NARA Coast to Coast: Emigration Records at the National Archives at Philadelphia, Part 1
There have been numerous posts on the NARAtions blog about people who have immigrated to the United States and how to locate their records, but what if you have ancestors who emigrated from the United States? In this two part series, we’ll look at two unique series of records from the National Archives at Philadelphia that contain significant details about folks that set sail from the United States rather than to the country. This week we’ll be looking at Aliens’ Applications for Permission to Depart from the United States and next week we’ll focus on Outward Bound Alien Passenger Lists.
The Aliens’ Applications for Permission to Depart from the United States (ARC ID 567234) from the World War I era are terrific genealogical records, but this series is also an excellent reflection of times and current events. Immigrants who had not been naturalized in the United States had to apply to the State Department to depart the country and undergo an investigation through the Bureau of Immigration before permission was granted for them to do so. Even though many applicants wished to leave the United States permanently, there were many concerns in this war-time era about allowing aliens to leave the country if they had connections that could harm American interests. Those concerns are reflected in the application form. Aliens seeking to leave the country had to answer whether they had had any contact with persons in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria or Turkey since June 1914, if the applicant had ever been arrested and whether the applicant had any relatives serving in a military of any country fighting against the United States. They also had to provide references that could attests that the applicant is “friendly to the United States and will not…do any act or give any information with the intention of injuring the United States or hindering its successful prosecution of war.”
In addition to providing information about any relations or activities that could potentially be harmful to the United States, applicants also had provide extensive information about themselves, their parents, spouses, and children. This includes information on births and birthplaces for all family members, spouse’s parent’s nationality (and if female, her maiden name), residence of parents (if still living), information on any children, applicant’s occupation, employer, and place of residence while living in the United States. They also had to answer whether they could read, write or speak any foreign languages. Included in the four page application is a photograph of the applicant and any family members that were emigrating with them as well as a physical description of the applicant. Any additional correspondence related to the investigation, passports and any final recommendations from the Bureau of Immigration may be included with the application as well.
This is a small series of records, but if you had relatives in the Mid-Atlantic region who emigrated from the U.S. around WWI, then their applications to depart may be found at the National Archives at Philadelphia. If you would like to request these records, or any other records at the National Archives at Philadelphia, you may contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Since these records are arranged by application number you should supply your relative’s application number, if you know it.
Often when a family historian’s ancestor leaves the United States and doesn’t return, that is where that family member’s history stops. The Aliens’ Application to Depart the United States are great documents of family history. They may lead to clues to the ancestor’s life overseas, and they are also records that bring us back to a time of turmoil and great concern for the United States, attempting to protect its interests. It is a place where family history and American history really do meet.