U.S. Alien Registration Files – A-Files – at NARA

UPDATED with links:

Have you ever used the Alien Registration files housed at the U.S. National Archives in Kansas City? I had heard of them, but since my mother’s family is colonial American and my dad’s parents were both born here (one set of great grandparents returned to Europe about 1898 and the other, who were never naturalized, died long before 1940, I saw no reason to bother looking into those records.

First, why were these records created? The Alien Registration Act of 1940 (also known as the Smith Act) required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government. The Smith Act also created criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. About the same time, President Roosevelt transferred the Immigration and Naturalization Service from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice.

The United States was on the brink of entering World War II and the government saw non-citizens as a potential security issue.

Knowing this, I set about to search the National Archives database for surnames of cousins and more distant relatives of my grandmother, who emigrated from today’s Slovakia in the early 1900s. The fact that most of those surnames were fairly unique helped me to determine which files might relate to my extended family.

The Alien Files, or A-Files as they are called at the National Archives, are numerous. The government initially expected about 1,000,000 to register, but in reality, over 5,000,000 did so.

As I looked over the NARA website, I couldn’t find a search engine that searched just the A-Files, but I did find a general link:

Online Research Tools and Aids Link

The next screen led me to the NARA catalog. Finally, a search box opened up to search NARA holdings by name.

I started off with a name that I know is quite unique – Patorai, also spelled Patoray. I searched Patora* with the asterisk wildcard and got six hits. Only the second one was of interest:

Mary Hrinya Alien File

I recognized the Hrinya (aka “Herina”) name as my grandmother was friends with at least one Hrinya family. In fact, the Hrinyas were on her Christmas card list and I was the official card addresser for her from about the age of 9 or 10.

I clicked on the live link that was Mary’s name and quite a long details page opened, including this portion:

Mary Patoray Hrinya

Nana’s paternal grandmother was Maria Patorai. Mary Patoray Hrinya was likely a second cousin. Mary Patoray married John Hrinya, probably in Passaic, New Jersey sometime after World War I.

I decided to try a search for “Scerbak” next. That was Nana’s maiden name. Two hits came up:

The first I did not recognize – for John Scerbak, noted as born on 25 December 1906. A quick check online shows that this John was married to a Margaret and lived in Clifton, New Jersey in 1940. He died in 1972. If he is a relative of mine, he is not a close one, as Nana didn’t have a brother named John.

However, she did have a brother named Peter who married Maria/Mary Sedlak. Mary was born on 10 June 1900 in Udol and came to the United States after World War I. She is the Mary Scerbak in the second Scerbak alien file.

This leads to another question. I have a copy of Mary Sedlak Scerbak’s naturalization papers filed in Passaic County, New Jersey in the 1920s. She and Pete must have misunderstood the directive that only non-citizens needed to register.

Directions state that when making a request to include the alien’s name, the alien registration number, National Archives Identifier, box number and accession number.

All of this data can be found online. I have Mary’s name – Mary Scerbak. Her alien registration number is Agency Assigned Identifier in the Variant Control Numbers box – A1939958. The National Archives Identifier is apparently the number above it, called the ARC Identifier – 5209106. The accession number and box number appear to be – Local Identifier – A1939958/085-09-4367, Box 283.

I suspect that the number after the slash might have been her Social Security number since the 085 prefix was assigned to the New York area.

If you think you might have relatives who completed an alien registration in 1940, visit the NARA website and try a search. The cost by mail is $20.00 for up to 25 pages.

6 thoughts on “U.S. Alien Registration Files – A-Files – at NARA”

  1. I have some A-Files and they are fantastic! One of them is for my paternal Armenian great-grandmother. My grandfather had to file all kinds of paperwork on her behalf and for himself in order to bring her back from Turkey in 1934. Even better is that the images are in color!

  2. Oh my goodness. I JUST started to research some of my family and I came across this and a few other articles on this website. By searching the NARA website that you linked, I just found a military file on my great uncle. I don’t understand what the card means, but this new journey is all so fascinating! Not sure if it will post correctly, but here is the card:
    The funny thing is that the address is a bit wrong, but close. What’s written as “Honters” should be “Houten”. He grew up in that house with my grandfather, then my father grew up there, and I did as well. The address used to be 921, but was changed to 931 at some point, I remembered hearing. I think I will be in touch with you as we may share some distant relatives. Thanks for posting this article!

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