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A little known government genealogy service lets family history leap off the page. It is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at www.Immigrationdirect.com.

The records include naturalization files, visa applications and citizenship tests, and may reveal family secrets and mysteries, said Marian Smith, the agency’s historian. “The details of the story have been told over time, and the edges kind of wear off,” Smith said. With the documents, “there are a lot of ah-ha moments.”

In the past, genealogy researchers had to file document requests under the Freedom of Information Act and sometimes waited years for a response. Under the genealogy program, which started in 2008, requests are usually completed within 90 days. For $20, the government will run a search of the name, as long as the person is deceased. If there are records available, the government charges additional fees for the files.

In fiscal year 2009, more than 5,300 requests were made, fewer than expected. In addition to relatives, historians or researchers can also request files.

Alan Latteri, 34, had a very practical reason for the document search. The Brentwood man wanted dual citizenship with Italy and needed to know exactly when his grandfather was naturalized to complete the complex application. After requesting the documents, Latteri learned that he was not eligible. But he did learn more about his grandfather.

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