Person of Interest: Albert Westra, born in Dronrijp, Netherlands, settled in Sussex County, New Jersey
Source Citation: Albert Westra, alien registration no. 4391398, 10 December 1940, Alien Registration (Form AR-2), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – Genealogy Program, Washington, D.C.
Document Description: This two-page alien registration form (AR-2) was created by the United States Department of Justice through what was then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The paper is 8-1/2 by 11″ and contains personal information related to my grandfather including his right index fingerprint and signature. The sheets are copies of the original records found in the genealogy section files of the modern U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program as part of the larger U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Albert Westra was assigned file number 4391398 when he registered his alien status.
Background information regarding the Alien Registration Act of 1940 (Smith Act): The National Archives has a wonderful document called The A-files: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestors written by Elizabeth Burns and Marie Louie that outlines what exactly the A-files are, how they came about, and how they can be accessed now. I’ll share a few excerpts with you here:
“Thee Alien Registration Act of 1940 required that all persons who were not citizens or nationals of the United States and were living within U.S. borders go to the local post office and register their alien status with the government. The registration process included filling out a questionnaire and having finngerprints taken. Certain exclusions applied for diplomats, employees of foreign governments, and children under the age of 14.”
“A series of radio PSAs promoted registration. The PSAs said participation supported democracy and called on Americans to aid their alien neighbors in completing the registration process. A number of officials of foreign descent—German, Italian, Polish, etc.—spoke to audiences in their native tongues to ease fears about the registration restricting or violating their rights. To bolster support, newspapers across the country published numerous photographs of actors and musicians who were aliens completing the registration process.”
“Government officials expected around 3.6 million registrants, but final counts saw more than five million forms submitted. The completed AR-2 and the correlating A-Number became the foundation on which the Alien Files (A-Files) were later built.”
What would have prompted this registration drive? Simply put: Paranoia.
By 1940, it was becoming ever clearer that the United States would not be able to sit on the sidelines as the European War raged and expanded. Concerns over spies and betrayal from within country grew and 76th United State Congress passed an act that defined the criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. Additionally, all non-citizen adult residents were required to register with the government. Thus, the creation of the AR-2 form. Registrations began on 27 August 1940 and, besides answering the 15 questions present on the form, required the registrants to be fingerprinted. It wasn’t a full set of fingerprints, just the right index finger. But that still made many people nervous which precipitated the Public Service Announcements (talked about above) to alleviate concerns about being added to a “list” the stigma of having one’s fingerprints taken. By January of 1941, the number of alien registrants had passed the 4.7 million mark.
Document Scan and Transcription: This first document is the cover letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program sent to me along with my grandfather’s two-page AR-2 completed form. They acknowledged that they had received my request on 11 August 2011 regarding information on my grandfather “Ale” Westra born 13 March 1908 in the Netherlands. Success! They found his file and were forwarding documents to me. It was signed by Lynda K. Spencer, chief of the Genealogy Section.
Pop quiz: Is this an original document? Go ahead, click on the document, and look closely. I’ll wait. The answer is no, it’s been tampered with! Before posting this, I photoshopped out my street address, my zip code and the “-Shutts” that used to hang off the end of my last name. Some clues to help lead you in that direction would be:
- This is a pretty formal letter in a standard block letter format, so why would there be a gap after my name?
- The city and state are present. Where is the zip code? It’s a modern letter, the zip would be included.
- There’s no standard punctuation (comma, colon) after the “Dear Ms. Strait” and there should be.
Granted the changes are subtle. But this also illustrates my trust but verify attitude. As a good genealogist, you should always ask to inspect the original.
1 ☆(a) My name is Albert [first] None [middle] Westra [last]
1 ☆(b) I entered the United States under the name Albert Westra
1 ☆(c) I have also been known by the following names:
1 ☆(c) (include maiden name if a married woman,
1 ☆(c) professional names, nicknames, and aliases):
2 ☆(a) I live at R.D. #2, Newton [city], Sussex [county], New Jersey [state]
2 ☆(b) My post-office address is Newton [post office], New Jersey [state]
3 ☆(a) I was born on March 13 1908
3 ☆(b) I was born in (or near) Dronryp [city], — [province] , Holland [country]
4 ☆(x) I am a citizen or subject of Holland [country]
5 ☆(a) I am a (check one): Male…☒1 Female…☐
5 ☆(b) My marital status is (check one): Single…☐1 Married…☒2 Widowed…☐3 Divorced…☐4
5 ☆(c) My race is (check one): White…☒1 Negro…☐2 Japanese…☐3 Chinese…☐4 Other ….
6 ☆(x) I am 5 feet, 8 inches in height, weigh 145 pounds, have light [color] hair and blue [color] eyes.
7 ☆(a) I last arrived in the United States at Hoboken, N.J. [port or place of entry] on March 13, 1918
7 ☆(b) I came in by Volendam [name of vessel, steamship company, or other mean of transportation]
7 ☆(c) I came in as (check one): Passenger…☒1 Crew member…☐2 Stowaway…☐3 Other ….
7 ☆(d) I came in as (check one): Permanent resident…☒1 Visitor…☐2 Student…☐3 Treaty merchant…☐4 Seaman…☐5 Official of a foreign government…☐6 Employee of a foreign government official…☐7 Other….
7 ☆(e) I first arrived in the United States on March 13 1927
8 ☆(a) I have lived in the United States a total of 13 years
8 ☆(b) I expect to remain in the United States permanently
9 ☆(a) My usual occupation is Farmer
9 ☆(b) My present occupation is Farmer
9 ☆(c) My employer (or registering parent or guardian) is Self
9 ☆(x) whose address is Same
9 ☆(x) and whose business is Farmer
All items must be answered by persons 14 years of age or older. For children under 14 years of age, only the items marked with a star (☆) must be answered by the parent or guardian. All answers must be accurate and complete.
AR-2 Form, page 2: [no heading]
10 ☆(x) I am, or have been within the past 5 years, or intend to be engages in the following activities: In addition to other information, list memberships or activities in clubs, organizations, or societies: None
11 ☆(x) My military or naval service has been None
12 ☆(x) I have applied for first citizenship papers in the United States. Date of application May or June 1940
12 ☆(x) First citizenship papers received Aug 2, 1940 [date], 1307 [number], Newton [city], New Jersey [state]
12 ☆(x) Filed petition for naturalization …………
13 ☆(x) I have the following specified relatives living int he United States:
13 ☆(x) Parent(s) [none or one or both] None. Husband or wife [yes or no] Yes. Children [number] Three
14 ☆(x) I have not [have or have not] been arrested or indicted for, or convicted of any offense (or offenses). These offenses are:……
15 ☆(x) Within the past 5 years I have not [have or have not] been affiliated with or active in (a member of, official of, a worker for) organizations, devoted in whole or in part to influencing or furthering the political activities, public relations, or public policy of a foreign government……..
Affidavit for Persons 14 years of age or older
I have read or have had read to me the above statements, and do hereby swear (or affirm) that these statements are true and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief. [Signature] Albert Westra
Subscribed and sworn to (or affirmed) before me at the place and on the date here designated by the official post office stamp below. [Signature] John G. Small
Affidavit for Parent or Guardian only [not filled out].
Seal of the post office of Newton, New Jersey, dated 10 December 1940.
Analysis: It must have been stressful time for my grandfather Albert Westra when he had to register as an alien in 1940. Even later in life, he still had a fairly thick Dutch accent. The fact that he was a foreigner wasn’t something he could hide and the penalties for not registering as an alien weren’t to be taken lightly. In his favor were the facts that he’d been in the country for 13 years laboring away as a farmer, that he didn’t belong to any subversive organizations, and that he’d not been arrested, indicted, or convicted of any offenses.
Ignoring the reasons behind the creation of this form, there is a significant amount of genealogical data to be found here.
- Albert Westra was born on 13 March 1908 in Dronryp Holland
- Albert Westra first arrived in the United States on his 19th birthday on 13 March 1927 on a ship called the Volendam
- He was a married, white, male farmer
- He was 145 pounds and stands at 5′ 8″ with light hair and blue eyes (could be used to distinguish him between other Albert Westras)
- He had not served in the military
- On 10 December 1940, he had three children
- On 10 December 1940, neither of his parents was living in the United States
- On 10 December 1940, he was living on R.D. #2 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey
- Albert expected to stay in the United States permanently and had filed his first citizenship papers in May or June of 1940 in Newton, New Jersey
One inconsistency on the form is that it states he last arrived in the United States at Hoboken, N.J., on 13 March 1918, a full nine years before he first arrived on 13 March 1927. Based on his naturalization papers, I know that both dates should be 13 March 1927 and that the 1918 date is a typo/mistake. His statement that he has been in the United States 13 years also confirms the 1927 date.
Another thing to note is that his middle name was not “None.” The person completing the form just wanted to make sure that all the blanks were filled in. They probably should have used “–” instead.
This AR-2 is an original document in that it doesn’t appear to be tampered with. It looks like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program just copied the papers as they found them in the file. They really have no reason to change any information. The information found on the document is both primary (arrival date, ship, physical description) and secondary (birth date, birth place) in nature. It does contain direct evidence of Albert’s birth date and birth place. It contains indirect information in that it tells me Albert is married and has three children. This must be used with other evidence to prove who he married and the names of his children.
Albert’s AR-2 alien registration form provides a nice snapshot of what Albert’s life looked like on 10 December 1940. He was a white man, originally born in Holland on 13 March 1908, with three children and a wife. He was working at his usual occupation of farmer and lived on R.D. #2 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey. He was upstanding in that he had not been arrested, indicted, or convicted of any offenses and was not agitating for the overthrow of the United States government. He intended to stay in the United States permanently and to that effect had already filed his first citizenship papers.