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Naturalization Records in the National Archives

Summary of presentation at National Archives Genealogy Fair 2012
By Christine Foster Meloni

Presenter: Patrick Connelly, National Archives, New York

Important Dates

Remember these important dates:

March 26, 1790 – The United States has come into existence and this is, therefore, when the government began to record naturalizations. So don’t look for naturalization records before this date!

September 27, 1906 – The INS took over and then the records became better. The forms were standardized.

September 22, 1922 – Women were now able to apply for naturalization on their own. Before this date, they obtained citizenship through their fathers and their husbands. So don’t look for the naturalization records of women prior to this date unless you are looking for a single woman who was not with her father. She could ask to be naturalized. But daughters and wives were given “derivative citizenship.”

Interesting situation: Women born in the United States received citizenship at birth. But, if they married a foreigner who was not a US citizen, they lost their US citizenship because they had “derivative citizenship,” that is, it was dependent on their husband’s citizenship. (How unfair!)

From 1936 on a woman could repatriate.

The Process of Naturalization: Documents

  1. Declaration of Intention (It expired after seven years.)
  2. Petition for Naturalization – minimum of five years after the Declaration
  3. Certificate of Arrival (after June 1906 to verify when the immigrant arrived)
  4. Another document is the Oath of Allegiance – not a separate document but part of the Petition – sometimes not photographed because on the back of the Oath
  5. Certificate of Naturalization – issued to the new citizen, rare to find one – Copies weren’t made, only the new citizen had a copy (You are lucky if your ancestor kept his/hers)

Note: Consider the witnesses on these documents. Chase them down! They might be relatives or otherwise relevant.

How do you find out where your ancestor was naturalized?

You may have to search in different places but you need to search in court records.

  1. court in county seat or another large city in the county
  2. state court
  3. federal court

It is best to start with federal courts, then state, and then county. Most county websites are quite good today. Request the record by mail. Give as much information as possible: name, date of naturalization, court of naturalization or place of residence, petition number, date of immigration, (missed others)

The National Archives has the records of the federal courts. The colonial records are in the archives of the various states.

Passenger Lists

Port of New York passenger lists are available from 1820-1957. All lists are in the National Archives.

Photos are required on Declarations after 1927 or 1928.

Name Changes

How could you change your name? Three ways: (1) by yourself, (2) at the county court house, or (3) at the time of naturalization.

AN ANNOYING  MYTH: Names were changed at Ellis Island. No names were ever changed at Ellis Island because no names were ever recorded at Ellis Island. The officials knew many languages since so many immigrants did not speak English. They did not record names but simply checked the passenger lists that had been prepared at the ports of departure. Errors were made then at the ports of departure, not at Ellis Island.