Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. Records of the Special Boards of Inquiry, District No. 4 (Philadelphia), Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1893–1909. Microfilm publication M1500, 18 rolls. ARC ID: 4483061. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787–2004. Record group 85. National Archives at Washington, D.C.
This database contains transcripts of INS hearings to admit or deny immigrants entry into the United States.
Until the late 19th century, there were few laws restricting an immigrant’s entrance into the United States. Starting in 1882, however, Congress passed laws that would bar entrance for (among other things) mental deficiencies, physical disease, people likely to become public charges, criminal background, and unaccompanied minors. Immigrants who were denied entry could appeal to a “special board of inquiry” to have their cases reviewed. The records in this database come from board of inquiry hearings in Philadelphia.
NARA’s background pamphlet on these records notes that “most decisions dealt with contract laborers, stowaways, bond cases, and immigrants who were liable to become public charges.”
What You May Find in the Records
The transcripts in this database can provide detailed background on an ancestor’s life that may be available in no other source besides a personal diary.
Entries for early cases include a handwritten summary of the inquiry and its findings. These typically include a name, place the immigrant came from, age, occupation, and contacts or family in the United States. They may also include similar details on family members such as minor children or others already in the United States, including how long they have been in the country.
Later records can include typewritten transcripts of interviews that may contain extensive details on background, history, occupation, family, children’s names and ages, vessel arrived on, plans and intentions once the immigrant entered the U.S., who they were coming to see, addresses and other details for family members or other contacts in the United States, what work they were planning on doing, and even how they were able to finance their passage. Some contain pages of questions by the board and answers given by the immigrant. Witnesses may also have appeared on the immigrant’s behalf.
Records also note the board’s decision.
The background for this description comes from NARA’s descriptive pamphlet M1500, Records of the Special Boards of Inquiry, District No. 4 (Philadelphia), Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1893-1909. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1987.
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