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We examine how translation-related domains form in thin alumina films synthesized by oxidizing a NiAl (110) surface. Low-energy electron microscopy observations reveal that translation-related domains (sometimes called antiphase domains in the literature) are created within isolated alumina islands as they grow or are annealed. Thus, the domains do not originate when islands with displaced lattices impinge, as frequently assumed in models of film growth. Even though the planar defects that bound the translation-related domains cost energy, the misfit dislocations that terminate the domain boundaries lower the film’s strain energy.