A multitude of books and movies alludes to J. Edgar Hoover, the former director of the FBI, who kept secret surveillance files on many famous Americans. But could your not-so-famous ancestor also be among those with an FBI investigative file? You might be surprised.
During wartime and threats to national security, citizens suspicious of the activities of neighbors and acquaintances may have reported their concerns to law enforcement, which led to inquiries by the FBI.
For instance, when the United States entered World War I, federal agents began investigating reports of espionage, sabotage and suspicious activities. The records of these investigations are known in the bureau as the "Old German Files." They cover 1915 to 1920 and could be of interest to a lot of us: Many Americans have strong German roots.
Old FBI files are accessible through the National Archives and other sources, including the FBI itself. And discovering an ancestor's file can lead to a treasure-trove for family historians hungry for the tiniest of details.
The Old German Files can be found at Footnote.com, which digitized National Archives microfilm. They are fascinating to read just for insights into the era's mindset.
I chose to look at the file of Albert Deitz. The story began on April 13, 1917. Edward Moore, postmaster of Norwich, N.Y., reported to the FBI that one of his rural mail carriers was suspicious of Deitz, a new farmer on his delivery route. FBI Agent Roy McHenry began his investigation by paying a visit to Deitz's farm on April 27.
Deitz, a German, had claimed to be from Pennsylvania when he purchased his farm. But he aroused suspicion by paying for the land in $100 bills from a Los Angeles bank. According to McHenry's investigation, Dietz didn't fraternize with his neighbors and "discourages their attempts to be neighborly."
Furthermore, his neighbors believed his behavior indicated he wasn't really a farmer. He mowed only a small portion of his hay crop and didn't market his dairy products.
When McHenry went to the Dietz farm, he noted the "plowing was not the work of a good farmer." He described Deitz as probably about 55 years old, 5-foot-10, quite bald, weighing 150 pounds and having a strong German accent. His wife, about 44, was "not at all comely with a very sour expression."
Their house was "miserably furnished and not at all clean," McHenry wrote. He recorded that Deitz had three children, two boys, ages 6 and 1 1/2 , and a 4-year-old girl.
Deitz told McHenry he was born in Germany but had been in America for 20 years. He said he was a "citizen of no country but of the world."
The file offers no further information, leading to the assumption that the FBI found no reason to further watch or investigate Deitz.
But to check whether the story ended here, you can look for FBI records at the National Archives and the FBI Electronic Reading Room. Go to archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups /065.html for a good overview of FBI files at the National Archives. The FBI Electronic Reading room can be accessed at foia.fbi.gov/room.htm. On this site, there also are directions for filing a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Pasco County Meeting
Are researchers reading your mailing list queries and message board postings? At Saturday's meeting of the Pasco Genealogical Society, Pam Treme and Pattie Schultz will walk attendees through the "who, what, where and when of well-written queries."
The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 9016 Fort King Road, Dade City. The program is free. Go to rootsweb.com/~flpcgs.
Polk County Meeting
Drew Smith will present "Kicking the Tires of Popular Genealogy Software: Which to Get" at the Imperial Polk Genealogy Society meeting at 1 p.m. Saturday. The group will meet at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church, 3140 Troy Ave., Lakeland.
Smith is co-host of the weekly Genealogy Guys podcast and a regular contributor to Digital Genealogist and the National Genealogical Society NewsMagazine. Visitors are welcome, and the program is free. Contact Susan W. Roberts at (863) 686-9794.
Daughters Of The Confederacy
The United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 113 will meet at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Steak & Ale, 204 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa.
Members will share stories about visits to Confederate parks, houses and battlefields. The program is free. To RSVP, call Gail Crosby at (813) 839-8056 or (813) 758-5738.
Jewish Society Meeting
.The Jewish Genealogical Society of Tampa Bay will conclude the two-part seminar "Finding Your Grandma's Immigration Record," led by Emil H. Isaacson, at 2 p.m. March 9 at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater.
Registration is at 1:30 p.m. Cost of the seminar is $25 for nonmembers and free for members. Attendees must pay $10 for a seminar book. Call Sally Israel at (727) 343-1652.
South Bay Meeting
.Jim and Terry Willard, former hosts of the PBS series "Ancestors," will present a program at the South Bay Genealogy Society meeting at 1 p.m. March 18. Their topic will be "Uncivilized Internet."
The society meets at the SouthShore library, 15186 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin. Reservations must be made by March 11 by sending a check for $12 to P.O. Box 5202, Sun City Center FL 33571. The fee includes lunch, which will be served at noon.
For information, call Rose Huggard at (813) 633-0868.