During the early 1900s, not all immigrants were granted immediate access to the United States upon arrival. Some were held for a “special inquiry,” for a variety of reasons. Explore these unique stories from the port of San Francisco.
The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include the following information:
Vessel on which they sailed
Date of arrival
Cause of detention
Name of inspector conducting the primary inspection
Actions taken by the Board of Special Inquiry
When applicable, the date and ship upon which the individual was deported
After the turn of the century, immigrants coming to the United States faced a “primary inspection” to determine their status and whether they would be permitted entry into the country. This process typically involved questioning by a single immigration official, or inspector. Questions included age, birthplace, occupation, amount of money being carried, status of US citizenship and any previous US residency. At the conclusion of this inspection, the person was then either declared permissible or inadmissible. When it was the latter, they were turned over to a board of special inquiry.
These boards consisted of three members, appointed by the commissioner of immigration in charge of the local station. In larger ports, permanent boards were maintained. Detainees were called before a hearing. Basic facts, such as age, birthplace, destination inside the United States, trade, purpose of migration, and so forth, were established. Any documentation the individual had with them was examined. Witnesses were allowed to testify on their behalf, in a separate, secluded room, but typically were not called until after the detainee completed their own testimony.
The board would nearly always render a decision immediately at the end of a hearing, and majority ruled. If the decision was to admit, the person was immediately released from detention. A decision to deport, however, meant that the individual was kept in detention until deported or until an appeal was completed.
Causes for detention were typically as follows:
LPC: likely to become a public charge
TD: temporarily detained
Photo bride: Japanese women immigration to the US to marry based on a photograph and correspondence with her intended husband
“Transit” or “Transit?”: whether a person was truly temporarily stopping in the US on their way to another foreign destination
Problems with the persons visa or travel documents
Disease, sometimes referred to as “dangerous and contagious disease” or specifically listed a medical situation, such as hookworm, trachoma, tuberculosis, etc.
Medical examination: required to undergo a medical exam before any admission decision would be made.
Not all detainees will have a case file.
These materials are specifically from the port of San Francisco, California, and were originally microfilmed in the 1950s, organized into five volumes:
February 1910 – June 1914
July 1914 – June 1916
July 1916 – July 1919
August 1919 – June 1923
July 1923-May 1941
The vessel, Chiyo Maru, arrived in San Francisco on June 23, 1913. A common Japanese practice at the time was proxy marriage, and women married in that way were issued visas to emigrate and join their new husbands in the United States. The husbands chose their wives based on pictures sent from Japan. This practice was in place from mid-1908 to April 1920. Japan ended the practice after violent anti-Japanese hysteria broke out in California.
Included in the passenger manifest that day were Iku Ikawa, detained for an “alleged marriage.” Several women were held as photo brides, including Hisano Numamoto, Kasu Yamaguichi, Yoshima Kosaka, Titsuo Komatsu and Sao Hironaka. Shozaburo Zinbo was also detained, on a suspected case of Uncinariasis, also known as ancylostomiasis. The common term is hookworm, an infection of the small intestine. She was eventually cleared by the medical team and allowed entry.
Copyright: NARA microfilm publication M1388, “Registers of Persons Held for Boards of Special Inquiry at the San Francisco, California, Immigration Office, February 1910 – May 1941. Compiled by Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, 2004. (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration.)
Begin your search broadly with just a first and last name.
Entries use abbreviations for first names, if you are unable to find your relative on your first search you can try different name variations. For example, if your search is unsuccessful for William try W or Wm, Thos for Thomas and Jas for James.
You can narrow your results if needed by adding a year, place, or additional keyword. By using the additional keyword search field, you can search by last name and other keywords to more effectively narrow your results.
Specifically note the Manifest Group (page) and No. (line) upon which the person is recorded in these records. You can then turn to the following microfilm publications at the National Archives and Records Administration for additional detail.
M1410: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at San Francisco, 1893-1953
M1414: List of Chinese Passenger Arrivals at San Francisco, 1882-1914
M1476: Lists of Chinese Applying for Admission to the United States Through the Port of San Francisco, 1903-1947