Presentation on 20th-century Immigration and Naturalization Records

SFBAGS_logo_color-Sm20th-century Immigration and Naturalization Records
Speaker:  Marisa Louie

Sunday, July 19, 2015
Rhoda Goldman Plaza
2180 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Program begins 1:30 p.m.

The National Archives maintains many records relating to immigration and naturalization in the 20th century. They include more than 400,000 Alien Case Files or “A-Files” at its facilities in San Francisco, California and Kansas City, Missouri. Created beginning in 1944, these files relate to noncitizen alien residents of the United States and have a potential wealth of genealogical information. At this presentation, you’ll discover more about what’s in A-Files, who is documented in them, and how to find them at the National Archives.  We’ll also explore other unique records relating to naturalization and the stories of Jewish refugees detained at Angel Island Immigration Station.

Marisa Louie is an avid researcher and genealogist who specializes in federal records. She formerly worked as an archivist at the National Archives at San Francisco and is co-author of the article “The A-Files: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestors“, published in the Spring 2013 issue of Prologue magazine. She is knowledgeable about the A-Files and other types of immigration case files maintained by the National Archives, having served as a research assistant for the book Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. A fifth-generation Chinese American, Marisa first delved into federal records as a college sophomore, researching her own family’s history in the United States.  She holds a B.A. in American Studies and Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is a past participant in the In Search of Roots program.

Presented by San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.  More information, including parking, is available at

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Upcoming Events for Freedmen’s Bureau Records at Oakland FamilySearch Library

DiscoverFreedmenOn June 19, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth (when the Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced in Texas), a major media event took place in Los Angeles to announce that all records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau) have been digitized and placed online at  The event also was used as a platform to encourage participation in FamilySearch’s indexing (transcription) of the records to create a searchable database, which will make the records far more accessible than they have been in the past.  The digitization project was a joint effort of FamilySearch, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum.

The records are extremely important in black family history research because they are the contemporary primary source that indicates the last slave owner of a formerly enslaved individual.  In many of the records created by the Freedmen’s Bureau, one of the questions asked was “What was the name of your last owner?”  That owner’s name is critical to finding more information about the individual prior to Emancipation.

The difficulties with using the Freedmen’s Bureau records to date have been numerous.  Very, very few of the records had indices.  Though the complete collection is available on microfilm at every branch of the National Archives, the quality of many of the records was poor when they were microfilmed, and searching on microfilm was tedious and headache-inducing.  And that was after you figured out in which part of the collection you should start your search, an adventure in and of itself.  Some of the records had been digitized previously — some were on,, and the Internet Archive — but no one site had all of them, and not all of them were searchable.

I’m on staff at the Oakland FamilySearch Library.  The people putting together the June 19 event actually wanted our library to be part of that event, but our director thought we needed a little more lead time to make sure we would be prepared.  Well, we’ve gotten organized, and now we’re going to have a media event.

On Thursday, July 16, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 noon, the Oakland FamilySearch Library, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California, will host the Northern California event to celebrate the completion of the digitization of the Freedmen’s Bureau records on  All members of the genealogical community are welcome to attend the event.

In addition to the celebration event, the Oakland FamilySearch Library (OFSL) has scheduled five sessions to explain how to transcribe the digitized records to create searchable databases and to sign up volunteers to help with the transcription project.  This is the same class being offered five times; you only need to attend one.  Genealogists in particular are being encouraged to join in transcribing the records, though everyone can help.  You will have choices about the records you work on, and maybe you will discover your own ancestors in the process!  You will also be helping make it easier for other researchers to find their lost family members.

The scheduled sessions are:
Thursday, July 16, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. (same day as the celebration event)
Friday, July 17, 2:30–3:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 18, 10:00–11:00 a.m.
Wednesday, July 22, 7:00–8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, July 28, 7:00–8:00 p.m.

All sessions will be taught by Kim Miller, an OFSL staff member.

Please help make these records searchable for everyone.  I cannot overstate the importance of the records for helping identify enslaved ancestors’ former owners, a key piece of information needed to be able to trace those ancestors prior to Emancipation.  Tony Burroughs, the well known black genealogist and author of Black Roots, mentioned in a recent keynote presentation that in all the research he has done, only about 15% of emancipated slaves took their former owners’ last names.  That means that 85% of us need the information that can be found in Freedmen’s Bureau records.

You don’t have to wait for the library event to help; you can actually start transcribing records today if you want to.  Information about the indexing project and how to contribute is available at

The purpose of the July 16 event is to help publicize the importance of the records and the effort to transcribe the records and create the index.  The transcription work itself is an ongoing effort.

If you want to watch a recording of the June 19 event, it is available on the Freedmen’s Bureau Project Web site.

In addition to all the regular media coverage of the digitization and transcription projects, Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, explained how the records are important to everyone doing Southern research, not just those with formerly enslaved ancestors.  Danica Southwick wrote a great article about the project for the Jackson Sun prior to the media launch.  And Dear Myrtle has issued a challenge to genealogists everywhere to spend half an hour every week helping with the project.

As an individual member of the California State Genealogical Alliance, I am asking all genealogists to participate in this effort to transcribe the complete collection of Freedmen’s Bureau records.  The impact on research will be enormous.

(This article first appeared on the Ancestral Discoveries blog on June 30, 2015.)

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USCIS Historian Will Speak about Immigration Records in Oakland in October

SFBAGS_logo_color-SmThe San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society is pleased to announce it has scheduled a presentation by Zack Wilske, Historian with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The topic will be “Beyond Passenger Lists: Documenting 20th-century Immigrant Lives.”

Zack will use case studies to introduce researchers to a variety of historical federal immigration and naturalization records available through the USCIS Genealogy Program and from the National Archives.  Topics will include naturalization records, alien registration records, immigrant visa files, and other records documenting lives of Jewish immigrants during the first half of the twentieth century.  Researchers will see example files, hear tips on connecting the records to each other, and learn how to advance their immigration research beyond the basics.

Zack Wilske is Historian for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  His research interests include the history of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the development of federal immigration and nationality policies, and the uses of INS records for historians and genealogists.  He speaks regularly at academic and genealogy conferences and has published several articles on research with federal immigration and naturalization records.

Sunday, October 4, 2015, 3:00–5:00 p.m.
Oakland FamilySearch Library
4766 Lincoln Avenue
Oakland, CA 94602

The talk is free, and everyone interested is welcome to attend.  For more information, visit or the SFBAJGS Facebook page at

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“We Are All Californians” Family History Day at the California Museum

We Are All Californians - Family History Day at the California MuseumThe California State Genealogical Alliance (CSGA) has been invited to participate in the “We Are All Californians” Family History Day, to be held on Saturday, July 18, 2015, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., at the California Museum in Sacramento. Admission and parking are free.

This event is for the entire family, and it would be great if our member societies shared their organization’s brochures at the CSGA table. Our goal for this event is to emphasize the importance of belonging to a genealogy society.

If you would like to share your society’s brochures, please contact Sheri Fenley, CSGA 2nd Vice President, as soon as possible. Sheri has some excellent ideas to help promote member societies and genealogy at this event!

Please visit the California Museum’s web site for more information about this event.

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Debbie Gurtler Lectures on Finding Hispanic Ancestors

Debbie GurtlerDebbie Gurtler will present two free lectures on resources and research techniques for finding your Hispanic ancestors from Spain, Mexico, or other Latin American countries on Saturday, July 11, 2015, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2107 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, California, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00.p.m.

Debbie graduated with honors from Brigham Young University with a BA Degree in Family History. She worked for several research firms in Salt Lake City before beginning her present employment at the Family History Library, where she is currently the supervisor of the International Floor. She is fluent in Spanish and presents classes in both English and Spanish. Her areas of research specialty include Spain, Latin America, Brazil, Portugal and the United States. She is also familiar with the research basics for Quebec, France, and Italy. In addition to Spanish, her language expertise includes the ability to read documents in Portuguese, Italian, French, and Latin. She is an Accredited Genealogist® for the United States, Mid-south region and Spain. She is a commissioner on the board of ICAPGen where she serves as webmaster. She is the mother of three and the grandmother of three.

She also worked with a team of genealogists on the ancestry of Tim McGraw for the NBC program “Who Do You Think You Are,” and has taught various Hispanic research beginner and methodology classes at conferences and in the Family History Library in both Spanish and English.

Registration: 8:15am to 9:00am. Register here for FREE.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society and the LDS Family History Center of Santa Barbara. You do not need to be a member to enjoy this wonderful, free presentation.

For information about this event, contact moc.l1464104532iamg@1464104532oilov1464104532annel1464104532g1464104532 or visit

To find more genealogy events in California, please check the calendar on the CSGA Website.

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