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Naturalization


Locating naturalization records may lead to a goldmine of information, including the hometown of your ancestor in the old country. Then again, the records may not tell you anything other than the date your ancestor became a US citizen.

How do you determine if your ancestor naturalized?

Census records - the census gives citizenship status

Land records - for many time periods, only a US citizen or an alien who has begun the naturalization process, could own land

Voting records - you must be a US citizen to vote

Why wouldn't someone naturalize?

Had no desire to become a US citizen

Illiteracy

Determined by court to not be of good moral standing

On this page you will find a general overview of the naturalization process.

Naturalization Terminology
Certificate of Naturalization: Court-issued document stating the alien has become a US citizen.

Declaration of Intention: The first papers filed in the naturalization process. The alien declares his intent to become a US citizen.

Denization (US Colonial Period): The act, under English law, where a foreign-born individual becomes a British subject. He does not have the same rights as a naturalized citizen.

Denizen (US Colonial Period): A foreign-born individual who has obtained Letters of Denization, making him a British subject. A denizen does not have the same rights as a naturalized citizen or a natural-born subject. For example, he may purchase land, but may not inherit it.

Deposition of Intent (1825-1913): A statement made by an alien of his intent to become a citizen as soon as legally possible. Depositions were usually made by aliens who wanted to buy land.

Derivative Citizenship: Citizenship is conferred through another individual, ie: by marriage.

Letters of Denization (US Colonial Period): The documents conferring a foreign-born individual into a British subject.

Nationality: The relationship between an individual and the country in which he was born.

Naturalization: Conferring citizenship upon an alien.

Naturalized Citizen: An individual who has legally become a citizen. He has the same rights as a native-born American, except he is not eligible to become President or Vice President.

Passport: Legal travel document allowing the holder valid entry into a foreign country.

Petition for Naturalization: A written application to the court asking for US citizenship.

Residency Requirement: The set length of time an alien had to reside in a specific jurisdiction.

Visa: Legal document, issued by a US consular office, allowing an alien to enter, reside and work in the United States and later become eligible for citizenship. Now known as a green card.

Naturalization Legislation

It is important to understand the various laws affecting naturalization. The following is a very brief outline of the most important legislation affecting naturalization to 1906:

In 1789, the US Constitution put the power to set laws for naturalization within the legislative branch of the federal government.

Act of March 26, 1790: The federal government set the US residency requirement for naturalization to 2 years, state residency to 1 year. Aliens who were free white persons were able to naturalize. This did not include indentured servants, slaves and women (who were considered dependents).

Act of January 29, 1795: The 1790 Act was repealed and the US residency requirement was raised to 5 years. Also, the Declaration of Intention had to be filed 3 years prior to the filing of the Petition for Naturalization.

Naturalization Act of June 18, 1798: The US residency requirement was raised to 14 years.

Alien Enemy Act of July 6, 1798: In case of a declared war or invasion, the President has power to restrain or remove alien enemy males 14 years of age or older.

Naturalization Act of April 14, 1802: The US residency requirement was lowered to 5 years. Naturalization requirements were set in place: applicant must be of good moral character, have allegiance to the US Constitution, file a formal Declaration of Intention and be able to provide character witnesses to the court.

Act of May 26, 1824: Immigrants who were minors upon arrival in the United States could wait 2 years to file their Declaration of Intention, rather than the previously stated 3 years.

Naturalization Act of July 14, 1870: The naturalization laws were extended to include immigrants from Africa and those of African descent.

Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882: Chinese immigrants were legally prohibited from naturalizing.

Act of March 3, 1887: Only US citizens (native born or naturalized) could own land.

Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906: Stated that the ability to speak, read and write the English language was a requirement to becomming a US citizen. Also called for uniform naturalization forms.

Act of May 22, 1918 Enemy and Departure Control Act: Allowed President to control entry and departure of any alien who was deemed a threat to public safety during times of war or national emergency.

Act of December 17, 1943: Allowed naturalization for Chinese immigrants or those of Chinese descent, with a quota of 105 per year. Effectively repealed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

The Naturalization Process

The Colonial Period
Since America was under British rule from 1664-1708, immigrants could apply for British citizenship through the King of England or by an act of Parliament. The Governor of New York could also give what was known as a letter of denizen. As you can imagine, this naturalization process was very expensive, so most immigrants did not apply. Oaths of allegiance were taken in the years 1664, 1673, 1687 and 1776. Remember, during the colonial period, each colony established its own laws in regards to naturalization.

The Years 1790-1906
The naturalization process was generally completed in two steps. After two years of landing in the United States, the immigrant could file a declaration of intent. This was just that: his intention to become a citizen. This could be filed in any court that would accept it. The court would provide the immigrant with a copy of his declaration to carry with him. The declaration usually contains more genealogical information than the actual petition.

After a minimum of 5 years residency in the United States, the immigrant could move on to the filing of the actual petition for citizenship. This too could be filed in any court that handled naturalization proceedures. In fact, it didn't have to be filed in the same court, or even the same state, as the declaration of intent! NOTE: A minimum of two years had to pass between the filings of the declaration and the petition. Some states also had their own residency requirement, which was usually one year.

When the immigrant filed his petition, he was required to bring a witness into court with him. This witness would swear under oath to the immigrant's moral character, literacy, understanding of the US Constitution and fulfillment of the residency requirement(s). Next, the immigrant would swear under oath that he had met the residency requirements, understood the principles of the Constitution and renounced all foreign allegiance. After he was sworn in as a citizen, the immigrant had to surrender his declaration of intent to the clerk of the court. Some courts provided the immigrant with a citizenship certificate, suitable for framing.

1906+
After 1906, naturalizations were handled by the supreme courts of each county.

Exceptions

Women & Children
Derivative citizenship was granted to alien women from 1790-1922. They obtained this through their husband's citizenship, whether naturalizaed or native-born. However, a woman who was a US citizen could lose her citizenship if she married an alien. From 1790-1940, children under age 21 were granted derivative citizenship through the naturalization of their father. Wives and children are rarely included in naturalization records prior to September 1906.

Women were not legally prohibited from naturalizing on their own. Since they didn't have the right to vote, they simply weren't encouraged, nor did every court honor their right to naturalize. But some women did naturalize on their own. The history of women's naturalization is confusing.

The law until 1804 did not prohibit naturalization based on gender. However after 1804, the law focused on the plight of married women. A woman's nationality was determined by her husband. It was more common in the 1800s for widows or spinsters to naturalize, since they would more than likely need the protection of the law. It would allow them to hold property and appear as persons in a court of law.

The Naturalization Act of February 10, 1855 stated that a woman who married a US citizen - whether he was native born or naturalized - was entitled to his citizenship status. The wife was not issed a separate certificate however. To prove her citizenship, she would need to show her husband's certificate in combination with her marriage license. Many of these women appear in their husband's court records, but many do not.

Many judges were simply unfamiliar with the naturalization requirements and would simply grant citizenship to whomever filed for it - whether they were single women, criminals, had met the residency requirements, etc. This explains how some single women were able to complete the naturalization process. However, it is more common to encounter a female ancestor who has filed her declaraton of intent and then been denied citizenship. Or who simply didn't complete the final steps due to societal pressures. Another common incident was for the husband to file his declaration of intent, but die prior to naturalization. In these cases, providing the wife appeared in court, the husband's citizenship would pass to his widow and minor children.

Once women won the right to vote in 1920, the naturalization proceedure was altered to include them. The Married Women's Act of September 22, 1922 (also known as the Cable Act) stated that a woman's nationality could not be determined by her husband. It also provided for women to naturalize on their own, regardless of marital status.

From 1824-1906, minor aliens who lived in the US for 5 years prior to their 23rd birthday could file both the declaration of intent and petition at the same time.

Civil War Veterans
A major exception to the naturalization process occurred with those who fought in the Civil War. Following an 1862 law, honorably discharged Army veterans of any war could file their petition for citizenship (the filing of the Declaration of Intention was deemed not necessary) after 1 years' residency in the US. In 1894, this law was expanded to include honorably discharged veterans of the Navy and Marine Corps who had served 5 years in the military. On May 9, 1918, this law was again expanded to include all aliens in the military serving in the "present war" - World War I. They simply had to file their petition. No declaration of intent or 5 years US residency was required.

 

Naturalization Records

Naturalization records from the Colonial period of New York can be found in the following from the LDS in Salt Lake City:

Kenneth Scott and Kenn Stryker-Rodda Denizations, Naturalizations and Oaths of Allegiance in Colonial New York
(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975;) FHL book 974.7 P4sc

The following is a list of important microfilms and the repositories that hold them:

WPA Soundex Index To Naturalization Petitions 1792-1906
This film covers all the courts for all 5 boroughs for the stated time period. It consists of 294 rolls of microfilm.
Repositories:
LDS
New York Public Library

New York County Index to Naturalization Petitions 1792-1906
This index only covers the following courts within New York County:
Court of Common Pleas (1792-1895)
Supreme Court (1795-1844; 1868-1906)
Superior Court (1828-1895)
The series consists of 82 rolls of microfilm.
At the LDS.

Bronx County Petitions Index 1914-1932
At the LDS.
LDS microfilm numbers:
Aagegsen, Kind Robert-Baum, John # 1852037
Baum, John-Brumer, Max # 1852111
Brumer, Max-Credidio, Louis # 1852112
Credidio, Louis-Ende, Benjamin # 1852113
Ende, Benjamin-Friend, Morris # 1852114
Friend, Morris-Grasso, Tony # 1852183
Grasso, Tony-Hyman, Abe # 1852184
Hyman, Abe-Koenig, Jetta # 1852185
Koenig, Jetta-Lieberman, Henry # 1852186
Lieberman, Henry-Marsh, Morris # 1852187
Marsh, Morris-Mueller, Carl # 1852420
Mueller, Carl-Pierro, Tony # 1852421
Pierro, Tony-Roshen, Sidney # 1852422
Roshen, Sidney-Schoen, David # 1852423
Schoen, David-Spagna, Louis # 1852624
Spagna, Louis-Valente, Santino # 1852625
Valente, Santino-Ziege, Felix # 1852626
Ziege, Felix-Zyontz, Nathan # 1852633 item 1

Bronx County Declarations Index 1914-1932
At the LDS.
LDS starting microfilm number:
Aagensen, Hans R-Baumritter, Max 1914-1927 # 1852633 item 2
NOTE: This series consists of 48 microfilm rolls.

Queens County Clerk's Index to Naturalizations 1906-1941
At the LDS.
LDS microfilm numbers:
A-Calinder, George microfilm #1818673
Calinder, George-Duritz, Emily #1818674
Duritz, Emily-Gurwitz, Harry #1818749
Gurwitz, Harry-Koop, Auguste #1818750
Koop, Auguste-Law, Edith #1818822
Law, Edith-Marotta, Nicola #1818823
Marotta, Nicola-O'Connor, Norah #1819057
O'Connor, Norah-Rauh, Martin #1819058
Rauh, Martin-Severino, John #1819059
Severino, John-Vento, Angelo #1819142
Vento, Angelo-Zywaczewsky, Nicholas #1819143

Queens County Index to Naturalizations 1794-1906
At the LDS.
LDS starting microfilm #1288955

Index (Soundex) to Naturalization Petitions Filed in Federal, State and Local Courts in New York, NY including New York, Kings, Queens and Richmond Counties 1792-1906 and US District Court of the Southern District of New York (including Manhattan) 1824-1940
Repositories:
National Archives - Record Group M1674
New York Public Library

Alphabetical Index to Petitions for Naturalizations of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York 1865-1957
NOTE: This microfilm is for Brooklyn.
Repositories:
New York Public Library

Alien Depositions of Intent to Become US Citizens 1825-1913
Repositories:
New York State Archives - Record Group: A1869
NOTE: There is no unified index to this microfilm, therefore the staff will not search it for you. There are multiple indexes to this microfilm at the State Archives if you care to search it yourself.

County Clerk's Reports of Persons Naturalized in New York County (excluding Bronx County) 1896-1906
Repositories:
New York State Archives - Record Group: B0078
NOTE: Not indexed. Staff will not search for you unless you supply a name, date, place and court of naturalization.

County Clerk's Reports of Persons Naturalized in Kings County 1896-1906
Repositories:
New York State Archives - Record Group: B0079
NOTE: Not indexed. Staff will not search for you unless you supply a name, date, place and court of naturalization.

Queens County Index to Naturalizations 1906-1941
Queens County Naturalization Certificates 1794-1906
Queens County Declarations of Intention 1906-1926
Repositories:
New York Public Library