Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Copyright 2005 by Frank Passic
The Lithuanian Museum Review
It was quite common for Lithuanian surnames to be changed from their original spellings when our ancestors came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century. There were numerous variables and factors that combined with the emigration/immigration process which resulted in names being changed and/or “misspelled.” For those researching their family history, this situation has often proved to result in a “dead end” in one’s quest for genealogical data. Many times the unknown spelling changes would change the “Soundex” code used by the U.S. National Archives for a particular surname. This would make for a frustrating situation when trying to find your ancestors name on a ship passenger arrival record Soundex card.
Fortunately, however, there is another source of information that may be helpful for those searching to find out what ship your ancestor came over to America on, when and where a Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen was filed, and other helpful information. It is the Alien Registration Form, which was once issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
As World War II approached, those persons who were not U.S. citizens had to register with the government and supply the INS with information about themselves. There were many Lithuanians who came to America before World War I who for whatever reason did not complete the citizenship process. This article will especially be helpful for those researchers whose Lithuanian ancestors did not become U.S. citizens, but continued to live and work here, and died here.
They would have been required to file an Alien Registration Form at their local post office. The Form your ancestor completed may be obtained by requesting a copy of it, by filling out form G-639 which is a the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request. These forms are available online at: www.uscis.gov, which is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In addition to filling out the normal information, you will be required to submit a proof of death of your ancestor, such as an obituary or a copy of their death certificate.
In Section 5 of the form, state that your purpose for this request is family genealogy, and request that they search for the following documents: 1) Alien Registration; 2) Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. Citizen; 3) Petition for Naturalization; and 4) Citizenship. Note: this form is not for finding your ancestor’s ship passenger arrival record, which needs another form in itself and is obtained via the U.S. National Archives.
The Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request form should be sent to: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2nd Floor, FOIA Unit, 111 Mass Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20529. The request you submit constitutes an agreement that you will pay any fees involved in the search up to an amount of $25.00, but that is usually not instituted: the first two hours of search time and 100 copies are free. So it is well worth it to file this form to see if your ancestor(s) filled out one of these Alien Registration Forms.
It will take several weeks before you get a reply. Most likely, they will be able to find the Alien Registration Form that your ancestor sent in. This form will have their name, what name they entered the U.S. under, any nicknames, then-current address, city/town of birth, country of birth, sex, height, eye color, marital status, port of entry to the U.S., name of ship or transportation to U.S., date of arrival, years lived in the U.S., occupation, name and address of employer, name of memberships in clubs and organizations, including unions, any military service, if they had applied before for U.S. citizenship, if yes, where and what year, specified relatives living in the U.S., number of children, if the person has been arrested or indicted for any offenses, the nature of the offense, the date of arrest, place, and disposition (sentence) of the case, a statement that the person has or has not been working for a foreign government, their signature, their fingerprint, the registering official, and the dated post office postmark.
In this own writer’s search for information about my grandfather, this form turned out to be another link in the quest to discover the name of the ship my grandfather came to America on. My grandfather was born in 1890 in Nevardenai, near Varniai, Lithuania, under the name of Nikodemas Kulikauskas, which was already changed from the original Kulakauskas his older siblings went by. My grandfather’s Alien Registration Form stated he was born near “Varnoo.” The Form stated that he arrived at the port of New York City in August, 1911 on “A German boat from port of Breim.” Apparently even in 1940, my grandfather had forgotten the name of the ship he came over on. The “port of Breim,” of course, would be the port of Bremen, Germany. The Form also stated that he registered for the military draft in America in 1914, and that he filed a Declaration of Intention “first citizenship papers” in Cicero, Illinois in 1914.
With that information revealed, I looked in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals, and found there were a handful of ships from Bremen that arrived in New York in August, 1911. They were all operated by the North German Lloyd line which was headquartered in Bremen. This will take further research, including going through the ship passenger indexes on microfilm, which are readily available in major libraries. The citizenship application Declaration is also another source to look into.
My grandfather filed his Alien Registration Form as Mike Frank Kulikowski, and stated that it was the name he used when he came to America. Mike Kulikowski was the surname he went by after it was “Polonized” by the factory foreman in Albion, Michigan where he worked. He had moved from Cicero to Albion, Michigan in September, 1918.
Mike Kulikowski (Nikodemas Kulikauskas) (1890-1975) with prize-winning fish
I encourage our readers to write for your ancestor’s Alien Registration Form in your quest for genealogical information. It could be another helpful “piece of the puzzle” and may just contain the information you need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Albion Historian Frank Passic writes weekly history columns in the local Albion newspapers, and is the author of several books on the topic. He is a 1975 graduate of Spring Arbor College.
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic