National Archives News

National Archives at Riverside Collaborates With California Universities to Digitize Chinese Heritage Records

By Angela Tudico | National Archives News

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Chinese Exclusion Act case files being digitized by a scanner donated by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives at Riverside staff.)

RIVERSIDE, November 15, 2022 — More than 2,200 Chinese Exclusion Act case files held by the National Archives at Riverside are now available online in the National Archives Catalog, thanks to a collaboration with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

The project began in 2018 after a fortuitous meeting at a local American Archives Month event. Shortly thereafter, professors and students from California State University, San Bernardino, and the University of California at Riverside joined the team.  

National Archives at Riverside staff trained the student interns, who digitized 56,507 documents using donated scanners. 

These records document the movement of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in and out of the United States during the exclusion era, when a series of acts passed by Congress between 1882 and 1943 severely curtailed Chinese immigration to the United States.

Around 10 percent of Riverside’s Chinese Exclusion Act case files have been digitized.

While the pandemic may have temporarily disrupted the digitization efforts, it did not stop the momentum to increase access to these records, which are invaluable to family and historical research. 

The Riverside office worked with the Office of Innovation, who collaborated with offices across the National Archives including Research Services, to establish a Citizen Archivist mission to tag and transcribe the scanned records to make them more searchable in the Catalog. This mission, which began in May 2020, is ongoing and includes 2,081 records from Riverside, as well as from National Archives offices all over the country that hold similar records. So far, over 25,000 pages have been transcribed by 692 citizen archivists.

“These case files constitute a large body of information about tens of thousands of individuals who today are ancestors to millions of Americans,” said Gwen Granados, Riverside’s Director of Archival Operations. “So, to increase access, not just for genealogists, but for scholars, the tagging mission specifically asks citizen archivists to tag occupations, home villages, then-current residence, associated cities, and witnesses and partners who appear in the records.”

The digitized records, part of Record Group 85: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), are available in the National Archives Catalog by INS regional office location: Calexico, Los Angeles, Nogales, and San Diego. They are also searchable by name.