Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Treasure Hunt

Last week, I learned that 18 months of waiting were worth all my worry, when my mom called to tell me that the immigration file we'd requested from the US government was sitting in our Post Office box! These 42 pages of history are an incredible resource, including such documents as the family register that was created for Jimmy at the time of his adoption, testimony from various family members and neighbors in Seoul regarding his paternity and the fate of his late mother, and the original adoption papers processed by the Korean government in 1953. We've been trying to acquire many of these same documents since our arrival in Seoul last fall, with no success, since we lacked some of the critical details that would be necessary to search the Korean  government databases (such as Jimmy's parents' names and the address where he was born). I know that others have faced this same frustration as they seek to trace their own history, so thought I'd tell you a little about how we did it:

If you were adopted to the United States and subsequently became an American citizen, you have an immigration file, and have a right to a copy of that file. I assume there are similar procedures to follow in Europe and elsewhere, but unfortunately my knowledge of the law is limited to the US.

Go online to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You want to download the G-639 form, which is available at

This form is for a federal Freedom of Information Act request. It's a tool used primarily by journalists, but is available to all citizens. As you fill out the form, be sure to check the box for "all of my records" to ensure that you get everything in your file.

If you have naturalization documents, visas or other resources that might include information to help locate your file, include photocopies. 

Once the form is complete, you'll need to go sign it in the presence of a notary public to have your signature officially notarized (FYI: many chain copy stores offer this service).

You can ask for your request to be expedited, but chances are, you'll probably have to wait at least a year - you have to prove that someone's life is at stake to get your documents quickly. (Our request for speedy processing was rejected.)

Send the completed form to:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security
National Record Center
P.O. Box 648010
Lee's Summit, Missouri 64064-8010

I called the office several times to check on the status of my request and always found the staff to be very polite and helpful. Although fees for copying are sometimes charged for particularly large amounts of information, Jimmy's records were photocopied and mailed to us at no cost.

Good luck!