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World War I Enemy Alien Records

With the declaration of war on April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called on residents in the United States, citizen and immigrant alike, to loyally uphold all laws and to support all measures adopted in order to protect the nation and secure peace. For individuals termed “alien enemies” – all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of Germany and its allies (including American-born women who married German men) – showing loyalty required a number of additional parameters and processes.

Wilson’s declaration of war included twelve regulations that restricted the conduct of alien enemies in the United States. Broadly, the regulations barred owning firearms, established a permitting process to reside/work in areas deemed as restricted zones or to depart the United States, and laid out policies regarding threats and attacks against the United States, along with condemning all aid to the enemy. 

Significantly, Regulation 12 stated that “an alien enemy whom there may be reasonable cause to believe to be aiding or about to aid the enemy . . . or violates any regulation promulgated by the President . . . will be subject to summary arrest . . . and to confinement in such penitentiary, prison, jail, or military camp.” The War Department established war prison barracks at Fort Oglethorpe, GA; Fort McPherson, GA; and Fort Douglas, UT. 

Records related to World War I enemy alien control programs were created by several different Federal agencies, including:

Records Related to Internments

Accordion

The Department of Justice (DOJ) was the agency responsible for determining which aliens should be interned. The “Alien Enemy Index, 1917-1919” (NAID 602456) contains alphabetically-arranged index cards that give each alien’s name, subject matter, judicial district, and related file number. The “9” on these index cards points to files in “Class 9 (European War Matters) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures, 1914–1961” (NAID 599528). These files provide a complete history from the alien’s arrest to their release or deportation.

Some records in an alien’s Department of Justice Class 9 file may be copies of correspondence with the Department of State if the National Alien Enemy Relief Committee based in Washington, DC, or the Swiss government took an interest in a particular alien’s case. (Since the war ended diplomatic relations with the German government, the Swiss Embassy looked after the interests of enemy aliens.) This correspondence usually includes the relevant file number from the Department of State’s “Central Decimal Files, 1910-1963” (NAID 302021). However, to ensure all relevant records are located, the “Name Index, 1910-1973” (NAID 581008) should be searched.

The Adjutant General’s Office created numerous records documenting the War Department’s operation of the internment camps. “Descriptive Enemy Cards, 1914-1919” (NAID 7513259) give each internee’s physical description. The “201 Files, 1918-1920” (also known as World War I Prisons and Prisoners: Prisoners of War and Alien Enemies in the U.S.) (NAID 7933768) contain correspondence from or about prisoners. “Correspondence Relating to Personal Property, 1917-1921” (NAID 7933769) includes receipts for property surrendered upon internment.

The Trading with the Enemy Act (40 Stat. 411) allowed the Federal Government to seize, administer, and sell alien-controlled property under certain circumstances. Records created by the Office of Alien Property include “Records of Interned Aliens, 1917-1918” (NAID 7381637); “Records of Investigation, 1917-1921” (NAID 7373130); “Trust Files, 1917-1934” (NAID 6879970); and other records that identify aliens and their property.

U.S. District Court records also have material about detained aliens, such as “Case Files on Detained Enemy Aliens, 1917-1919” (NAID 17408476) from the U.S. District Court for the Western (Cincinnati) Division of the Southern District of Ohio.

The administration of the internment camp at Hot Springs, NC, is detailed in the series “General Subject Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5106146); “Accounting Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5111263); and “Correspondence of the Inspector in Charge of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Enemy Alien Internment Facility at Hot Springs, North Carolina, with the Secretary of Labor (World War I), 1917 - 1918” (NAID 5106167). Additional records of internment can be found within the “Subject and Policy Files, 1906-1957” (NAID 559947).

Records Related to Registrations, Permits, and Enforcement

Growing concern over potential espionage by German aliens living in the United States prompted an expansion of requirements in November 1917 to include eight additional regulations. Among these, Regulation 19 instituted a requirement for enemy alien registration. Registration involved completing a four-page form that required the registrant to provide family information, details of immigration, a physical description, a photograph, and fingerprints. 

More than 480,000 German enemy aliens were registered, 200,000 permits were issued, and 6,300 enemy aliens were arrested under Presidential Arrest Warrants. There are no surviving master lists of registrations, permits, or arrests.

Very few records of the enemy alien registration and permitting processes exist today. The records that do survive are incomplete. The series identified below are the only known registration records currently maintained by the National Archives. Researchers should be aware that enemy alien registration records have been identified at a variety of locations outside the National Archives, including state archives, historical societies, and county libraries. To date, the only states with known surviving enemy alien registration records are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota (state registration), New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Accordion

The U.S. Marshals were tasked with the responsibility for enemy alien registration, permitting, and general enforcement, but very few of the records related to these processes exist today. Records from the U.S. Marshals in three states survive: Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The six series noted below are fully digitized and searchable by name in the National Archives Catalog:

  1. District of Kansas: “Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1917-1921” (NAID 286181)
  2. District of Kansas: “Alien Application Permits, 1917-1918” (NAID 5917758)
  3. District of Kansas: “Lists of Permits Issued to Enemy Aliens, 1918-1918” (NAID 5917760
  4. District of Minnesota: “Reports on Aliens, 1917-1919” (NAID 5821666)
  5. District of Minnesota: “Reports of Special Agents, 1917-1918” (NAID 5923162)
  6. District of Nebraska: “Correspondence Relating to Enemy Alien and Espionage Act Violations, 1917-1919” (NAID 5917191)

The U.S. District Courts were not directly involved in administering the enemy alien control program. For unknown reasons, four courts maintained incomplete records of the registration process within their geographic jurisdiction:

  1. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Frankfort Term: “Alien Enemy Registrations, 1917-1920” (NAID 5752917)
  2. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Raleigh Term: “Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918-1918” (NAID 5889371)
  3. U.S. District Court for the Phoenix Division of the District of Arizona: “Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918-1918” (NAID 160920782)
  4. U.S. District Court for the Shreveport Division of the Western District of Louisiana: “Lists and Forms Relating to Alien Registration, 1918-1918” (NAID 4706580)

The Post Office Department was not directly involved in administering the enemy alien control program. The agency retained a small sample of registration affidavits: 

  1. Post Office Department: “Sample of Registration Affidavits of Alien Females in Wisconsin, June 21-28, 1918” (NAID 38983236)

 

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