Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unnaturalized Affection. 1918 German Aliens.

The State of Arizona's new immigration law has raised many questions about what it means to be a U.S. citizen, what the country's responsibility is to those who come here seeking a better life, and what "protecting our borders" means and how that can best be accomplished. Similar questions came to my mind when I cataloged the library's Alien Enemy Registration Affidavits from 1918.

At that time, we were a nation at war and the country's security was top priority. The President and Congress mandated the registration of all unnaturalized Germans over the age of 14 in the United States. Across the country, local police departments handled registration on behalf of the Department of Justice: 80,000 German aliens were registered in New York/New Jersey; 12,000 in Philadelphia; 2,000 in Boston; 6,000 in St. Louis; and 27,000 in Chicago. The San Francisco History Center's collection of approximately 6,500 registration affidavits were part of the San Francisco Police Department archives that were transferred to the library in 1975.

The collection is of interest to historians and genealogists because the registration affidavits ask for every piece of information imaginable (from employment to residences, from brothers to mothers to the ship you came in on). They are a fantastic primary source for anyone who wants to study German immigration and the German community in San Francisco. The affidavits also document what the police department was doing during World War I.

At first, only men were required to register, but in April 1918, Congress required that women register as well. No one was exempt, including those in holy orders and those who were well-to-do or well connected. 

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the San Francisco History Center’s vertical files on Germans in the city. I discovered a program for the Deutscher Tag/German Day Celebration of October 1-2, 1938. It was a 255th anniversary celebration of the landing of The Good Ship Concord on October 6, 1683 with the first large group of German settlers for Pennsylvania. The program lists several songs and remarks by notables. I especially like the juxtaposition of The Star Spangled Banner with Deutschland, Deutschland ├╝ber Alles.

The choir director, F. G. Schiller, was born in Munich on April 24, 1883. He arrived in the U.S. in 1911 and in San Francisco in 1917, where he became the director of the Municipal Orchestra. On November 15, 1917, Schiller conducted a program of patriotic music at the Exposition Auditorium in San Francisco including The Star Spangled Banner and Over There. The very next day, a Presidential order would require his registration as an unnaturalized resident German alien enemy.

Schiller was naturalized in June 1920, and in 1938 we see that he was the music director for a few choirs in San Francisco. While now a U.S. citizen, he clearly cherished his German heritage. Schiller was also a composer, and in 1949 he conducted his own composition, Eine Faust-Phantasie, at the California Hall as part of nationwide Goethe celebrations. Frederick Guido Ludwig Schiller died in Contra Costa County on December 10, 1985 at the age of 102. His story is just one of thousands awaiting discovery in this collection.

Frederick Schiller registration affidavit images from Alien Enemy Registration Affidavits (SFH 48). Deutscher Tag images from the Vertical File: S.F. Ethnic--Germans. All images courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


  1. Thanks very much for sharing this resource. I'll be adding a link to this post in the upcoming California Genealogical Society's August 2010 eNews.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I've passed it on to the editor of our Great War Society publications, Relevance and The Saint-Mihiel Tripwire.

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