Many Americans are descended from German immigrants, the majority of whom immigrated between 1840 and 1897. At the onset of WWI, the status of the German immigrants who had not yet become U.S. citizens changed. President Woodrow Wilson had declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and in that year several requirements and restrictions were placed on “enemy aliens” living in the U.S. — the Germans. Any unnaturalized German residing in the United States was required to register his or her status with the Department of Justice on one of two forms titled either “Registration and Affadavit of Alien Enemy” or “Registration and Affadavit of Alien Female.” More about these forms later.

“Alien enemies” were defined as all natives, citizens and subjects of Germany and its allies. Also included were Austro-Hungarian immigrants, who were regarded as being allies of Germany. Recent immigrants were included as well as those who had immigrated to the U.S. years earlier but had not gotten around to completing the naturalization process. In addition, any American-born woman who had married an unnaturalized German immigrant was listed, because at that time women took on the citizenship of their husbands. Over 480,000 individuals were registered as alien enemies.

Being registered as an enemy alien did not mean that the federal government considered all of these people to be spies, traitors, or a danger to the country — it was a means to keep track of all German aliens because the country to which they owed allegiance was an enemy of the U.S.. The U.S. marshals were tasked with enforcing the regulations. A total of 6,300 registrants were arrested under the regulations as being a potential danger to the US and were interned at camps set up at Hot Springs, North Carolina, Ft. Oglethorpe and Ft. McPherson, Georgia, and Ft. Douglas, Utah. Many of these people had not committed an actual crime but spent years confined in detention.

But for the average German immigrant who had been peacefully residing in the U.S. for years or decades, this registration process would probably have been hurtful or humiliating. The registration form itself was four pages long and required the person’s name, address, length of residence at that address, all other residences prior to 1914, birthplace, occupation and employer’s name, arrival date in the U.S., port of arrival, ship’s name, parents’ names, marital status, wife’s name, children’s names, if any of his male relatives had taken up arms against the U.S., if he was registered for the draft, all previous military or government service, if he had applied for naturalization, if he had been naturalized in whole or in part, if he had taken an oath of allegiance in any country other than the U.S., if he had ever been arrested and if so on what charges, and if he had a permit to enter a forbidden area. The registrant also had to supply his/her fingerprints, a signed photo and a physical description. The form was signed and witnessed by the registration officer.

These forms, if they can be located, contain valuable information for the family historian. Unfortunately, the majority have been lost. Some are available at the National Archives (NARA). The records of Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska are held by NARA and are searchable and viewable in digitized form online. Go to History Hub and search record group 118. Also note that NARA states, “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.”

FamilySearch has the records for North Dakota and San Francisco online. See The Allen County Library in Ft. Wayne has the records of New Mexico in book form.

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