Genealogical Research Using FBI Files

The following article about getting FBI files was written by Bryan Mulcahy, M.L.S., Reference Librarian for the Ft. Myers – Lee County Public Library:
FBI seal
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has maintained files on millions of Americans over the decades. Official records cover the period from 1908 to the present. FBI files initiated since 1956 have been computerized. Files for the time period prior to 1956 are in manual format. Some materials exist prior to 1908 but they are incomplete and significant gaps exist. While these files are considered public records, the FBI has imposed stringent rules concerning guidelines for access to files due to security measures in response to the post 9/11 era, coupled with the dramatic rise in identity theft. All requests for FBI records must be submitted using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

If you have reason to believe that one of your ancestors may have been the subject of an FBI profile, researchers are advised to visit the following links to obtain the most current guidelines, fees, and protocol for obtaining copies of records. The request letter link includes specific instructions and what types of information are mandatory for processing all requests.

In general, all requests for information must include the following:
1. Full name or names of the person whose file you wish to receive
2. Date and place of birth
3. Date and place of death
4. Photocopy of the death certificate or some other certified legal proof of death
5. Your full name and current address
6. Reason for wanting this information

Proof of death is a mandatory requirement for anyone initiating requests for information other than the person whose file is sought. Proof can be established using any of the following:
1. Newspaper obituary or death announcement showing the newspaper name, date, page number.
2. Citation from Who Was Who in America
3. Death Certificate
4. Biographical reference showing the title page of the source, name of person, date, place of
5. Encyclopedia or magazine article on the person which includes details, date, place of death.
6. Declaration that the person was born over 110 years ago.

Proof of death is not required if the person was born over 110 years ago, and you can document that fact, because they assume anyone over the age of 110 is probably deceased. However, you must be able to provide some evidence to document your claim including the exact birth date. If the file in question originated prior to 1956, you must inform them of this fact and specify that a manual search is required. You should follow the same correspondence procedures for both manual and computerized (post 1956) files.

BLM 7/2/2013