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UC Berkeley and National Archives create new database to help trace individuals’ immigration to United States
01 July 2002

By Ute Frey, Haas School of Business

Berkeley – Searching for information on early Asian immigrants to the United States recently became much easier, thanks to a new Web site designed to facilitate the search of records on people who immigrated to San Francisco and Honolulu, Hawaii, in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Early Arrivals Records Search (EARS) database — available on the Web at — was created by the Institute of Business & Economics Research, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Pacific Region of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Until recently, it was necessary to visit the National Archives in San Bruno, Calif., to determine if a file existed on a certain individual. But the new EARS database allows anyone with Internet access to find:

  • whether the National Archives has a case file for a particular individual
  • an individual’s case number
  • basic information about an individual’s immigration to the United States

    With the help of a case number, National Archives staff members can locate the physical case file at their archives in San Bruno.

    The Web site also includes information about the National Archives, how to search for a file, contact information and directions to the National Archives, and many other useful tips.

    Several million people passed through the immigration stations in San Francisco and Honolulu between 1882 and 1955. Asian Americans were often subject to extensive investigation. Many of these investigations are documented in nearly 250,000 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) case records maintained at the NARA-San Bruno regional archives. The documents cover investigations of people who tried to immigrate during the period of the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882-1943.

    The Chinese Exclusion Act severely restricted legal Chinese immigration to the Hawaiian Islands and the continental United States. Other immigration laws during the period expanded the restrictions to people arriving from India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and other Asian countries.

    "The electronic database saves relatives of such immigrants and social study researchers much time in determining whether a file on a certain individual even exists, before they get in the car and drive to San Bruno," said Robert Barde, academic coordinator at the Haas School’s Institute of Business & Economics Research, where an investigation of immigration issues inspired this new Web-accessible database.

    "Those interested in seeing a file still need to drive to San Bruno to do so, but they can save themselves many steps by using the database first," Barde said.

    The case files are priceless resources for studies of federal immigration, Asian American and family history. It is often possible to trace ancestral families back to their home villages in "the old country." A typical case file may contain a person’s biographical data and family history and may hold certificates of identity and residency, correspondence, and coaching materials used by "paper sons" — immigrants who gained entry to the United States by posing as sons of already-admitted immigrants.

    A file also may contain INS findings, recommendations and decisions; maps of immigrant family residences and villages in China; original marriage certificates; individual and family photographs; verbatim transcripts of INS interrogations and boards of special inquiry; witnesses’ affidavits and lawyers’ letters.

    Daniel Nealand, archival operations director for the NARA-San Bruno supplied the data to build the project. Lisa Martin of the Haas School Computing Center developed the database. Neal Fujioka in the Haas School Marketing & Communications office is responsible for the Web programming and site design. Patt Bagdon at the Institute of Business & Economics Research designed the banner for the Web page.

    Barde, author of the article "An Alleged Wife: A Tale of Angel Island," served as the project coordinator.

    The files are located at the National Archives and Records Administration, 1000 Commodore Drive, San Bruno, Calif. 94066-2350.

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