Like a good mystery? Then take a look through Fold3’s collection of old FBI Case Files. Written between 1908 and 1922 when the FBI was still just the Bureau of Investigation, these files document the fledgling organization’s investigations into crimes against the United States and violations of federal laws.
The case files (via the National Archives) cover a vast range of topics, though common ones include investigations into suspicious or anti-American activities of German aliens during WWI and Mexican aliens during the Mexican revolution; conditions at the US-Mexico border; instances of draft-registration avoidance; violations of Prohibition and its precursors (like the Reed Amendment and Wartime Prohibition Act); and alleged communist, socialist, or otherwise radical activities.
With more than 2.3 million records, the majority about individuals, this collection can also be a good place to look for your ancestors, especially if they’re of German or Mexican descent. Not only do the case files give details on the individuals being investigated, but they also commonly mention interviews with family, employers, and neighbors, giving you a more rounded look into an ancestor’s past rather than simply the bare facts.
A few cases you might find interesting include the following:
- An investigation by O.L. Tinklepaugh into a probable violation of Mexican neutrality in Texas. A rancher reported that Mexican bandits stole his cattle, but the truth of the situation isn’t what you might expect.
- An investigation by Arthur Denison into an unusual crossing at the California-Mexico border. Discover why Denison was worried about “engendering a misunderstanding with the Mexican border officials.”
- An investigation by Charles Scully into a report of mysterious signals flashing at night from the house of Howard Vibbert in Connecticut. Could Vibbert be a German spy? Or does he just have a nosy neighbor?
- An investigation by H.P. Shaughnessy into a man pretending to work for the Secret Service to con a woman in Boston into a fake engagement. Find out in the report what was more important to Shaughnessy than the young lady’s broken heart.
- An investigation by J.W. Bales into a letter reporting irregularities in a Delaware draft board’s classification decisions. Decide for yourself whether the actions of the draft board were suspicious, or if the letter writer had a personal grudge.
Explore the issues that interested the Bureau of Investigation in the first quarter of the 20th century—and maybe even find an ancestor along the way—in the FBI Case Files.