Investigating the Investigators: The U.S. Bureau of Investigation Case Files Archives
Founded in 1908 as the investigative branch of the Justice Department against the opposition of Congress by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation was charged with the investigation of violations of federal statutes. As its powers and influence increased in the face of internal and external threads, the Bureau was repeatedly accused of acting outside the law. Eight years later the Bureau employed three hundred agents, a steep increase from the modest thirty-eight investigators hired in 1908. In 1916 the Bureau was charged with counterintelligence and the investigation of radical activities in the U.S. J. Edgar Hoover, who was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, cleansed the Bureau of its corrupt elements. He remained in his position when the Bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.
The Bureau of Investigation case files are hosted on the EBSCO Fold3 platform. The files are labeled as FBI case files while the collection itself is called Bureau of Investigation case files. It consists of four series, Bureau Section Files, Mexican Files, Miscellaneous Files and Old German Files. Although browsing is an option, it is not a productive approach as file names consist mostly of numbers and personal names. The basic keyword search is a good starting point. Results can be filtered and searches can easily be modified. Scanning documents is at times challenging as the pages of some files are lined up from right to left.
The case files cover the years 1909 through 1921 and contain reports and documents related to World War I and the surveillance of groups suspected of un-American activities. The Bureau’s agents regularly reported about labor organizations, the radical press and “Negro subversion.” The case files include pamphlets and magazines published by the “radical press,” such as complete issues of The Masses. Interesting examples from the collection include Babe Ruth, who was investigated as an “alleged slacker,” a.k.a. draft dodger, Joseph McGarrity, whose surveillance files are part of the Old German Files as he was considered a friend of the Germans, and Emma Goldman, the well known anarchist. Margaret Sanger’s activities were closely watched as well. Her files include pamphlets about her speaking engagements and some of her publications. The short but politically turbulent time period covered by the case files will guarantee many interesting discoveries.
Links to the collection can be found in the online catalog, on the Databases A-Z list and on the history subject guide. Questions or comments? Contact me directly (email@example.com) or post your comments online.
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