Can you help me read this early 20th century immigration document?
September 26, 2019 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I am doing some genealogical research into family history (mostly involving Chinese Exclusion case files), and I have come across a document that seems important but is very difficult to make out. Can you read it?

The document is part of an investigation in 1908 into whether "Fong Hop" was born in the US. You can see it here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/192uyKPLFSeHXQ-X9weJx1EzL9TEJh7CI/view?usp=sharing

I will give my best guess if it helps, but I would rather not prejudice your thoughts if you have any!
posted by crazy with stars to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sorry, I look at a lot of old documents and I'm having a pretty hard time with this - I'm not even clear that the date is 1908, it looks more like 1902 or 1907 to me.

The image quality issues seem to be from poor reproduction, not degradation of the original - did you get this from microfiche via Ancestry or similar? You may be able to get a better quality copy through a request to USCIS - they have a fee-for-service genealogy service though you will need a file number (perhaps you have that?).

https://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/requesting-records
posted by epanalepsis at 10:42 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I obtained this document by a FOIA request to USCIS. To my knowledge there is no better copy.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:52 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I also look at a lot of old documents, and unfortunately, the quality of this copy is just too poor to be usable. I can make out bits and pieces of words, but so much is unreadable that the best I can do is make guesses without much confidence.

I think it still might be worth trying to get a copy through the USCIS directly. I agree with epanalepsis that this appears to be an exceptionally bad-quality scan of the original. I would guess that the scan you have was made specifically for your FOIA request, so I think you still might be able to get a more readable image through another channel.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:43 PM on September 26, 2019


Did USCIS tell you that there is not a paper record anywhere? Or that this is the "best copy available"? Copies of records under FOIA are expected to be legible, so long as the original is legible.
posted by zennie at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


If it were me, I'd open it in Photoshop and start removing the dots that I knew weren't part of the text. That might help a lot.
posted by amtho at 3:50 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


A possible alternative for obtaining a more legible copy, or at least more information:

From googling the legible phrases from the stamps ("Department of Commerce and Labor" "Office of the Commissioner" "San Francisco" + the guess of 1908), I ended up at The National Archives at San Francisco's website, at the section regarding Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (RG 85). I'm guessing that the "Office of the Commissioner" stamp on the letter scan you received refers to the first item mentioned in the Records Description, "Records of the Office of the Commissioner of Immigration, Washington, DC, 1908-43, comprising Chinese certificates of identity."

On the sidebar, there's a link for Genealogy Research and lower down on the page is a section called "Additional help," which lists a contact email and phone number for the National Archives at San Francisco. No idea what it's like to contact them, but they might be another good resource for pursuing a better copy of the document. At the very least, I'd imagine the staff there might have additional pointers for your research.

(Some more background information: "The San Francisco earthquake and fire had a major impact on the course of the Chinese exclusion bureaucracy. The events of April 18, 1906, destroyed the Hall of Records, including vital records of births, marriages, and deaths." Not to dispirit you, just something to keep in mind, as the letter's on the brief side.)
posted by rather be jorting at 5:03 PM on September 26, 2019


Asking NARA @ SF in a good idea, though when I've asked them in the past for files on this individual they've come up empty. INS consolidated his Chinese exclusion case files into his A-File in 1960 as part of an investigation related to the Chinese confession program.

It is good to know that FOIA obligates organizations to provide legible copies. I will follow up with USCIS FOIA's office about that.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:56 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Best I could do is this, still a lot of uncertainty and conjecture there:

Sacramento, Cal.

Sir:
1. [Pertaining to?] the case of Fong Hop, [placename?] native, you are
2. advised [that an?] investigation has been made, but that the evidence
3. [something] is not [something] as to establish the nativity of this
4. [something]. [Hop?] has [something] to leave [something] or tomorrow for
5. China, but the investigation can be completed after his departure,
6. and [something something something] affadavits [something something]
7. mentioned in your letter of April [date]. [Something] examination
8. will [something] [Dr Bado?]

Respectfully,

Acting Commissioner
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:25 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


This was my guess for comparison:

No. 5762-C(?). May 25, 1908

Mr. Wm. S. Howe,
Attorney at Law,
Sacramento, Cal.

Sir:

?????? in the case of Fong Hop, alleged native, you are
advised? investigation ?? ???????, but that the evidence
????? is not ???? establishing? the nativity of this
person?. The? ?????? to leave on the ?? or tomorrow for
China, but the investigation ?? ?? restored? ??? ??? ourtino?,
and this are ???ed ??? ??????? ????? ?? ?? ?????
mentioned in your letter of April ??th. return(?) examination
till then be made.

Respectfully,


Acting Commissioner
posted by crazy with stars at 7:57 PM on September 26, 2019


filling in some more with guesswork - words that would make sense in context and roughly fit the letterspaces.

1. [Regarding?] the case of Fong Hop, alleged native, you are
2. advised that an investigation has been made, but that the evidence
3. [received?] is not [sufficient?] to establish the nativity of this
4. person. [Hop?] has [something] to leave on the [shipname?] tomorrow for
5. China, but the investigation can be continued after his departure,
6. [and it is suggested that you submit?] affadavits [of the persons?]
7. mentioned in your letter of April [26th?], and further examination
8. will then be made.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:50 PM on September 26, 2019


FWIW I agree with the general interpretation above. I have convinced myself that the first word in the main body is "Herein ;" ... partly because it sounds like old fashioned bureaucracy.

To be more precise about FOIA, my understanding is that the agency must make the information available to you if it has it. It's possible the best record they have is illegible even to them, but if so they ought to tell you.
posted by zennie at 4:00 AM on September 27, 2019


couple of possibilities for line 4:
"Fong Hop expects to leave on the steamer tomorrow"?
or maybe, "has tickets to leave on"?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 AM on September 27, 2019


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