Would there be any registers or lists of resident "aliens" in US city, county, state or federal records in the 1880's and 1890's? In other words, registers of those who are not US citizens, such as British or Canadians.

My particular interest is for Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. For other years there are of course censuses, but as the 1890 census was destroyed I'm wondering if there is anything which specifically mentions non-citizens that could help as a census substitute (other than street directories).

  • Could you incorporate some of the information from the comments on GeneJ's answer and add your estimate for when people went back to Canada? (I can see that you're working in a 'black hole' -- Clues in Census Records, 1850-1930 shows that clues to US Naturalization status can be found in the 1870 Census, and then in 1900 through 1930 -- but there's nothing in 1880, and as we know, the 1890 Census was lost.) – Jan Murphy Jul 30 '15 at 16:59

I realize you were inquiring about "aliens," but if they did qualified to vote in this period, you might check the Chicago Voter Registration Lists, 1888, 1890 and 1892.

Typical entries provide names, addresses, nativity, time of residence at the precinct, count and state; also whether naturalized (and date of papers). Even when they registered to vote; whether they voted and their ballot number.

The records span across two sheets (so one left sided page and one right sided page). A representative record from 1890 follows. I viewed those images via the indexed records on Ancestry.com, which cites Illinois State Archives microfilm. It appears these these records are available from FamilySearch on microfilm. See the FamilySearch film notes for possible limitations to the film indexing.

Apparently this collection represents twenty volumes of registrations found in the 1980s by an amateur genealogist. 1 The Newberry Library catalog reports that at one time this collection was "A complete alphabetical listing of every registered voter in Chicago for 1888, 1890 and 1892."

P.S. Michael John Neill has an article on this collection; he admits to "drooling" over these records.

1 Ancestry.com, "About Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1890."

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Update: A few other thoughts:

  • Newberry Library is a world-class facility. Their tag line is, "Chicago's Independent Research Library Since 1887." I've contacted them by phone and e-mail in the past. More information available at the related webpage, "Genealogy and Local History."
  • Occupation. Not sure of the occupation(s) involved here, but you might see if there are union or trade archives.
  • Newspapers. It may be just my experience (and I did have some local help), but I do have quite a few notices about illnesses; business relocations, etc., that have been helpful.
  • Since aliens can never vote why go on about voter lists? – Andy Hatchett Oct 24 '12 at 5:00
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    @AndyHatchett: "aliens can never vote" -- not true: Illinois Constitution of 1818, Art II, section 27: " In all elections, all white male inhabitants above the age of 21 years, having resided in the state six months next preceding the election, shall enjoy the right of an elector; but no person shall be entitled to vote except in the county or district in which he shall actually reside at the time of the election." – bstpierre Oct 24 '12 at 12:09
  • @AndyHatchett I don't know the basis for Robert's knowledge of the resident alien status. If there was a chance my ancestors might have become eligible to vote by 1892, I would check the list. – GeneJ Oct 24 '12 at 12:15
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    These voters lists only include those who were native-born, or naturalised (so the law probably changed after 1818). This does mean they are of limited use for finding my British/Canadian family who were present in Chicago in 1894 and 1897, maybe as early as 1888, maybe as late as early 1900, when they went back to Canada. Certainly worth checking anyway, even if it's just to eliminate somebody I find in a street directory (if he's a native-born, he's wrong). Might also find some in-laws. Now, what I need is a list of those who were not allowed to vote ... (unlikely I know). – Rob Hoare Oct 25 '12 at 0:38
  • While there could be other reasons, I did see some "no" entries in the column, "Qualified Voter." I do have a couple of other thoughts; will append to this answer. – GeneJ Oct 25 '12 at 0:42

Look through the entire City Directory, and not just the alphabetical or numerical sections of the directory. In the New England directories published by the Price & Lee Co., there's often a section with City Information. Social organizations are listed in the back with their officers and meeting times. These will not list resident aliens per se, but if the resident aliens gathered in their own organizations, looking for people who are mentioned as members of the organization in newspaper searches can yield a great deal of information; some of it might fill in the gaps left by the loss of the 1890 Census. The indexing can be very strange because the names are not presented in the same fashion as the rest of the directory, so it's better to browse the pages directly.

See this list of fraternal organizations on Wikipedia for examples. There is a Canada link on that page; if people were members in Canada, they might join the local group once they reached Chicago, or start one if one didn't exist already. Fraternal brothers often show up as bearers and can be discovered by newspaper accounts of funerals. Work backwards from later records and you might be able to reach the 1890s that way. Church newsletters may also mention the movement of members, as well as newspapers.

Newspapers sometimes have lists of names, including registered voters. I've seen lists of people who had letters waiting for them at the Post Office, property transfers, court calendars, and probate-related advertisements that could be clues to other records. and other residence information.

These pages on Olive Tree Genealogy may not be directly useful, but in case they are of interest: Lists Of Stockholders Canada & USA 1890 and Canadian Passport Records. This one is the wrong period, but perhaps you could find similar records which are from the 1890s? Names of Emigrants from the 1845-1847 Records of James Allison, Emigrant Agent at Montreal

I've also found city registers on Google Books which list official city business. They might give statistics on the number of resident aliens, and there might be clues to actual lists, e.g. the name of the department in the city which produced the statistics.


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