A government genealogy service lets family history leap off the page





A little-known program of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides information that bridges oceans.

At first glance, the photo-copied documents simply looked like government forms and applications.

But when Susanne Mori read more closely, she found the story of her grandfather's life as he made his way in America more than five decades ago.

The documents came from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs a little-known genealogy service for relatives wanting to learn more about their family history.

The records include naturalization files, visa applications and citizenship tests, and may reveal family secrets and mysteries, said Marian Smith, the agency's historian.

In the past, genealogy researchers had to file document requests under the Freedom of Information Act and sometimes waited years for a response.

Under the genealogy program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. For $20, the government will run a search of the name, as long as the person is deceased. If there are records available, the government charges additional fees for the files.

In fiscal year 2009, more than 5,300 requests were made, fewer than expected. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.


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