Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Two Pages of #FamilyHistory for $130

CD with grandpa Isaac Burk's Alien Registration Form
In November, when dramatically higher fees were proposed for requesting genealogy records from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the first thing I did was write a strongly-worded protest letter, and copied my legislators.

Then I looked at my family tree and decided to finally obtain USCIS records for my paternal grandfather Isaac Burk (1881?-1943). After all, if the price goes even higher, it will be entirely out of reach. Better to check on Grandpa's records now.

First step: Pay $65 for a Search

I clicked to the USCIS page for genealogy and read the directions. As the page explains, without a case number or other identifier, I needed to pay $65 for the department to search for Grandpa's name in its files. I submitted my request and my credit card number online just before Thanksgiving.

The search was completed in mid-December. USCIS said it had two types of records: C-File (naturalization court records) and AR-2 Form (Alien Registration Form).

Because I've already found Grandpa's naturalization documents (citizenship, petition, and so forth--dating from 1930s through his naturalization in 1942), I decided to send only for his 1940 AR-2 Form.

Second step: Pay another $65 for AR-2--and Wait

After waiting the requisite 24 hours to order documents mentioned in the USCIS letter, I applied online to receive the AR-2, paying another $65 by credit card. The date was December 14, 2019.

Six weeks later, I received two follow-up letters from the USCIS, acknowledging my records request and providing me with a case identification number. One letter said that the results would be mailed to me. The other letter said I would receive the records on a CD.

On March 8, I received an envelope with a CD dated February 26, 2020.

What $130 Buys
AR-2 Form for Isaac Burk

On the CD was a cover note explaining that there were exactly two pages corresponding to my AR-2 Form request.

Also on the CD was an excellent scan of Grandpa's Alien Registration Form, two pages long!

Did I learn anything?
  • Grandpa Isaac said he was born in "Kovna, Russia" which was technically correct--it was within independent Lithuania until 1939, when the area was taken over by the Soviets. Not new news, but confirmation of what he said in some other documents (when he didn't say simply "Russia"). For instance, in one of his naturalization papers, he declared his birthplace as "Kovna, Lithuania."
  • Grandpa Isaac gave his birthday as June 5, 1881. On some other documents, he gave the year as 1882. Maybe I should believe 1881?
  • Grandpa Isaac said he was a "machinist" working for a manufacturer of dress forms. In most older documents, Grandpa's usual occupation was shown as "carpenter, cabinet-maker" with the same or a nearby address for his employer. This dress-forms company was also his employer on his WWII "old man's draft" card...and it was run by an in-law. So this was of interest.
  • Grandpa Isaac said he was a member of the Independent Harlem True Brothers (a benevolent society) since 1916. Grandpa and his wife, Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), were both buried in this society's plot in Riverside Cemetery, Saddle Brook, NJ. But I hadn't known how long he was with the group, which he obviously joined within a year of settling down in New York City permanently.
This was an expensive experiment that I'm glad I tried but won't repeat. Not enough new information to make two pages worth $130.

IF, however, I didn't know Grandpa's date of immigration, his place of birth, his address at the time, and other details, this could have been more valuable than it turned out to be for me, 22 years after first beginning my search for Grandpa's life story.


  1. I had similar disappointing results on a C-file request with USCIS. This relative had an alien case file at the National Archives, and the $36 I spent on that (September 2015, for 45 pages I got in three days) was well worth the money.

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience, Amanda! Wish I had ordered Grandpa's USCIS file years ago, when it was cheap and quick.