Naturalization Records

Naturalization Records

In order to find your ancestors' naturalization records, you first must know where they naturalized. Naturalization records in the National Archives are, for the most part, kept at the branch that services the region where the naturalizations took place.

Because of the time period in which your ancestors came over, you may have to go to state or county courts to find these records; it wasn't until 1906 that naturalizations were required to be done through the federal courts.

I am enclosing an article on the naturalization process that should help direct your search.

Clifford MacWha
Archives I Research Room Services Branch (NWCC1)
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
[email protected]>

Naturalization Records

The following article should assist you in locating the naturalization record you are looking for.
You can find an updated version at our website.
"The Location of Naturalization Records."
By Claire Prechtel-Kluskens.
Reprinted from The Record, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 21-22 (Nov. 1996).

We are frequently asked where an ancestor's naturalization records can be found.  This article will provide general guidance that should assist most researchers in finding these records.

Naturalization is the process of by which an alien becomes an American citizen.  It is a voluntary act by the alien; naturalization is not required.  Twenty-five percent of foreign-born persons listed on the 1890 through 1930 censuses had not become naturalized or filed their "first papers."

The Courts

From the first naturalization law passed by Congress in 1790 up through much of the twentieth century, an alien could become naturalized in any court of record.  Thus, most people went to the court most convenient to them, usually a county court of some kind.  The names and types of courts vary from state to state.  The names and types courts have also varied during different periods of history--but may include the county supreme, circuit, district, equity, chancery, probate, or common pleas court.  Most researchers will find that their ancestors became naturalized in one of these courts. 

A few State Supreme Courts also naturalized aliens, such as the Supreme Courts of Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

Some persons who lived in large cities become naturalized in a Federal court, such as a U.S. District Court or U.S. Circuit Court, if one of those courts were convenient to them.

General Rule:  The Two-Step Process

Congress passed the first law regulating naturalization in 1790 (1 Stat. 103).  As a general rule, naturalization was a two-step process that took a minimum of five years.  After being in the United States a minimum of two years, an alien could file a "declaration of intent" to become a citizen.  A minimum of three years after that, the alien could then "petition for naturalization."  After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien.  These two steps did not have to take place in the same court.  As a general rule, the "declaration of intent" will contain more genealogically-useful information than the "petition." 

The "declaration" may include the alien's month and year (or possibly the exact date) of his immigration to the United States.

Exceptions to the General Rule

Having stated this "two-step, five-year" general rule, it is necessary to note several exceptions.  The first major exception was that "derivative" citizenship was granted to wives and minor children of naturalized men.  From 1790 to 1922, wives of naturalized men automatically became citizens.  This also meant that an alien woman who married a U.S. citizen automatically became a citizen upon marriage. 

From 1790 to 1940, children under the age of 21 automatically became naturalized citizens upon the naturalization of their father.  Unfortunately, however, names and biographical information about wives and children are rarely included in declarations or petitions before September 1906.

The second major exception to the general rule was that, from 1824 to 1906, minor aliens who had lived in the U.S. five years before their twenty-third birthday could file their declarations and petitions at the same time.

The third major exception to the general rule was the special consideration given to veterans.  An 1862 law allowed honorably-discharged army veterans of any war to petition for naturalization without previously having filed a declaration of intent after only one year's residence in the United States.  An 1894 law extended the same no-previous-declaration privilege to honorably-discharged five-year veterans of the Navy or the Marine Corps.  

Over 192,000 aliens were naturalized between May 9, 1918 and June 30, 1919, under an act of May 9, 1918, that allowed aliens serving in the U.S. armed forces during "the present war" to file a petition for naturalization without making a declaration of intent or proving five years' residence.  Laws enacted in 1919, 1926, 1940, and 1952 continued various preferential treatment provisions for veterans.

The Records

It is impossible to provide hard-and-fast rules about the content or even the existence of naturalization records.  The 1905 Report to the President of the Commission on Naturalization remarked:

The methods of making and keeping the naturalization records in both the Federal and State courts are as various as the procedure in such cases.  Thus the declaration of intention in some courts consists merely of the bare statement of the intention and the name and allegiance of the alien, while in other courts it also includes a history of the alien....  In a majority of courts alien applicants are not required to make the declaration of intention required by law ... and in  other courts he is.  Previous to 1903 a majority of courts did not require petitions or affidavits; other courts did.  Some courts keep a naturalization record separate from the other records; other courts include the naturalization record in the regular minutes of the court.  Some records contain full histories of the aliens, but a majority of the records show only the name, nationality, oath of allegiance, and date of admission.

In 1903, a Justice Department investigator made even more damning comments:

I find the naturalization records in many cases in a chaotic condition, many lost and destroyed, and some sold for old paper.  Most the records consist of merely the name and nativity of the alien with no means of identifying aliens of the same name....  In numerous cases I find aliens naturalized under initials instead of Christian names, surnames misspelled or changed entirely, and names of witnesses inserted in place of the alien naturalized....  The examination of the records discloses the remarkable fact that never, since the first enactment of the naturalization laws, has any record been made in any court of the names of minor children who, under the operation of the statutes, were made citizens by the naturalization of their parents.

The Location of these Records

For a comprehensive guide to where naturalization records for specific courts can be found, see Christina K. Schaefer, Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States (Baltimore, MD:  Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997), which is available in many public libraries, as well as from genealogical booksellers and the publisher.

Naturalization records from county courts may still be at the county court, or in a county or state archives, or at a regional archives serving several counties within a state.  Some of these records or indexes have been published, such as the Index of Naturalizations, Ashtabula County, Ohio, 1875-1906, published by the Ashtabula County Genealogical Society.

Do not be surprised if county court employees tell you their naturalization records are at "the National Archives" or that their court never conducted naturalizations.  Most current court employees are probably not genealogists and may not be familiar with, or interested in, the court's older records.  It is up to the researcher to have persistence in determining the location of older court records.  Some of these records may have been microfilmed and may be available through "Family History Centers" run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormon").  Family History Centers are open to the public.

If the naturalization took place in a Federal court, naturalization indexes, declarations, of intent, and petitions will usually be in the National Archives' Regional Archives serving the state in which the Federal court is located (addresses listed at end of message).  Some of these indexes and records have been microfilmed and are available through "Mormon" Family History Centers or the American Genealogical Lending Library (a private company that rents microfilmed genealogical records to the public).

The Microfilm Reading Room (Room 400) in the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D.C., has some microfilmed Federal court naturalization indexes, declarations, and petitions, but it is by no means a complete collection of these records.  To repeat, most Federal naturalization records are found in the National Archives Regional Archives serving the state in which the Federal court is located.

Although the National Archives does not have naturalization records created in state or local courts, we do have three microfilmed indexes that serve as a finding aid to some state and local court naturalizations. 

National Archives Microfilm Publication M1285, Soundex Index to
Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts,
Northern District of Illinois, and Immigration and Naturalization Service
District 9, 1840-1950 (179 rolls) serves both as an index to naturalization
petitions from the two Federal courts mentioned in its title and as an
index to naturalization petitions filed in county courts in eastern Iowa,
northwestern Indiana, eastern Wisconsin, and northern Illinois.

National Archives Microfilm Publication M1674, Index (Soundex) to
Naturalization Petitions Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New
York, New York, including New York, Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties,
1792-1906 (294 rolls) serves a similar finding aid function for New York
City naturalization petitions.

National Archives Microfilm Publication M1299, Index to New England
Naturalization Records, 1791-1906 (117 rolls) serves a similar function for
naturalizations occurring in various courts in the New England states.

For more detailed information, consult John J. Newman, American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985 (Indianapolis:  Indiana Historical Society, 1985).

National Archives Regional Archives Addresses

NARA--New England Region (Boston),
380 Trapelo Rd., Waltham, MA 02154.
617-647-8100.  Email: <
[email protected]>. 
States: CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT.

NARA--New England Region (Pittsfield),
10 Conte Dr., Pittsfield, MA 01201.
413-445-6885.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
MICROFILM ONLY; no original records.
States: CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT.

NARA--Northeast Region (New York City),
201 Varick St., New York, NY.
212-337-1300.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
States: NJ, NY, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands.

NARA--Mid-Atlantic Region (Philadelphia City Center),
900 Market St., Room 1350, Philadelphia, PA 19107.
215-597-3000.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
States:  DE, MD, PA, VA, WV.

NARA--Southeast Region (Atlanta),
1557 St. Joseph Ave., East Point, GA 30344.
404-763-7477.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
States:  AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN.

NARA--Great Lakes Region (Chicago),
7358 South Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60629.
312-581-7816.  Email:  <
[email protected]>.
States:  IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI.

NARA--Central Plains Region (Kansas City),
2312 East Bannister Rd., Kansas City, MO 64131.
816-926-6272.  Email: <
[email protected]>. 
States:  IA, KS, MO, NE.

NARA--Southwest Region (Fort Worth),
501 West Felix St., P.O. Box 6216, Ft. Worth, TX 76115.
States: AR, LA, NM, OK, TX.
(most records from Federal agencies in NM are at
NARA-Rocky Mountain Region)

NARA--Rocky Mountain Region (Denver),
Building 48-Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0307.
303-236-0817.  Email: <
[email protected]>. 
States:  CO, MT, ND, NM, SD, UT, WY.

NARA--Pacific Region (Laguna Niguel),
24000 Avila Rd., Laguna Niguel, CA 92656.
714-360-2641.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
States: AZ, Southern CA, and Clark Co., NV.

NARA--Pacific Region (San Francisco),
1000 Commodore Dr., San Bruno, CA 94066.
415-876-9009.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
Northern CA, HI, NV (except Clark Co.),
Pacific Trust Territories, American Samoa.

NARA--Pacific-Alaska Region (Seattle),
6125 Sand Point Way, NE, Seattle, WA, 98115.
206-526-6507.  Email: <
[email protected]>.

NARA--Pacific-Alaska Region (Anchorage),
654 West Third Ave., Anchorage, AK, 99501.
907-271-2441.  Email: <
[email protected]>.
State: AK.


This page was last updated October 4, 2008.