Tracing an Immigrant Ancestor
Tracing an Immigrant Ancestor through the Naturalization Records in the Cuyahoga County Archives.

The City of Cleveland, a major Great Lakes port as well as a key industrial and manufacturing center has, for well more than a century, been attracting immigrants to its Lake Erie shores in search of opportunities for employment, security, and a new way of life. Many immigrants who have, through the years, settled in Cleveland, or elsewhere in Cuyahoga County, chose to express their allegiance to a new homeland by seeking citizenship.

Thus today there are large numbers of Cuyahoga County residents who are themselves naturalized citizens; many other persons have parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were naturalized Americans. For many citizens in Cuyahoga County the documents filed in the naturalization process are of inestimable value. Elderly persons may need to produce citizenship records as verification of birth in order to qualify for Social Security or other benefits.

A naturalized American may require proof of citizenship in order to obtain a passport. Naturalization records are also of singular importance to genealogists, who may discover information recorded on citizenship papers which will allow them to trace their family roots in Europe or elsewhere in the world. Most fortunately, the courts in Cuyahoga County have helped to preserve a vital aspect of this area's ethnic heritage by maintaining naturalization records. The Cuyahoga County Archives is the repository for the citizenship documents filed with the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and the Probate Court. The naturalization records in the Cuyahoga County Archives are open to the public and the staff of the department is trained to assist researchers in the use of the materials. But, before researchers seek out the citizenship records in the County Archives, they should be acquainted with a few facts about the process of naturalization and should also be familiar with the nature of the information recorded on naturalization documents.

The first naturalization law, enacted in 1790, set forth the basis upon which citizenship would be granted; since that time, many additional laws relating to immigration and naturalization have been enacted. Throughout the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth century, however, there were certain requirements and qualifications for American citizenship which remained unchanged. For example, a foreign-born person seeking citizenship had to be of good moral character. Also, the law required that the individual reside in the United States for at least five years and in the state or territory where he or she made application for citizenship for one year. Legislation also required that three years (later, two years) before admission and immigrant applicant declare on oath before a court of record having common law jurisdiction and possessing a seal and clerk or prothonotary his or her intention to become a citizen of the United States and "to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty." Further, at the time of the application to be admitted, the immigrant was asked to declare on oath before the court to support the Constitution of the United States and again was required to renounce all former allegiances to any foreign ruler.

Married women did not need to apply for citizenship; a law enacted in 1855 stated that "any woman who might lawfully be naturalized under the existing laws, married, or who shall be married to a citizen of the United States shall be deemed and taken to be a citizen."

In 1922, however, legislation was passed that declared a woman's right to become a naturalized citizen would not be denied or abridged because of her sex or because she was a married woman. After 1922 a woman married to an American citizen or whose husband might be naturalized would not automatically become a citizen. In regard to the citizenship of children the naturalization laws also provided that alien minors, who were under the age of twenty-one years at the time of their parents' naturalization and who were dwelling within the United States, automatically became American Citizens.

A foreign-born person who fulfilled all the legal requirements had to file two basic documents when applying for citizenship. One form, often referred to as the "first paper," was the declaration of intention. This document lists the person's name, provides the date of arrival in the United States, and identifies the applicant's country of origin. The declaration of intention also includes the applicant's signature and the date the declaration was made.

In 1906 the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization prepared new declaration of intention forms. These documents provided more detailed information about the applicant, including the date and place of birth, physical features, port of arrival, and the name of the ship that brought the person to the United States. The second document, or "final paper," the petition for naturalization, generally provides information on the applicant's date of birth, date of arrival, address in the United States, and occupation. In some cases the petition may give the person's exact birthplace, port of arrival, and name of ship that brought the individual to this country. The petitions filed after 1906 are more detailed documents and may provide, in addition to other facts, the name, birthplace, and birth date of the applicant's spouse, and the names, birthplaces, and birth dates of any children.

The Cuyahoga County Archives has in its possession the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas declarations of intention for the years 1818-1971 as well as petitions for naturalization from 1883 to 1931. The Probate Court documents include the declarations of intention from 1859 to 1901 and entries recorded in a volume entitled the Naturalization Book. These latter records, dating from 1859 to 1901, generally do not provide the detailed information found on the Court of Common Pleas petitions.

Searching the Naturalization Records in the Cuyahoga County Archives
A researcher, in order to make the best use of the naturalization records, should have certain facts at hand about an immigrant ancestor before instituting a search. The following example illustrates the matter.

Full name of subject to be searched: John Jones, Jr.
Country of origin: Wales
Approximate date of arrival in the United States: 1885-1888
Other pertinent information: Born August 30, 1860. Died in Cleveland in 1920.
Married in Cleveland in 1888.

Other Sources of Information Relating to Naturalization.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service.
425 L St. NW, Washington DC 20526. (202) 633-2000
Duplicate records of all naturalizations that occurred after September 26, 1906.

The Reference Services Branch (NNIR) National Archives and Records Service,
8th and Pennsylvania Avenue. NW, Washington DC 20408
Obtain Orders for Copies of Ship Passenger Arrival Records.

National Archive and Records Administration Great Lakes Region,
7358 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60629 (773) 581-7816.

National Archives and Records Administration - Great Lakes Region
7358 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629. (773) 581-7816
Request search of naturalization records for U.S. District Court for Northern District of Ohio ca 1855 - 1967.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Room 537
United States Federal Court House 201 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114 (216) 522-1962