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Monday, September 21, 2015

Find Your Immigrant Ancestors - Naturalization Records -- Part Two

Example of post-1906 Declaration of Intent and Naturalization
This is the second in a series of posts about naturalization records. Here is a link to the first installment:

Very few subjects in American history have been more contentious than immigration and conflicts over immigration and immigration policies continue to this day to be subject to political fighting at the highest levels. For genealogists, this controversy is both good news and bad news. The good news is that naturalization produces genealogically valuable records. The bad news is that those records are often not so easy to find.

I once considered taking on immigration law as an emphasis in my law practice. I spent a considerable time reviewing all of the existing laws and the status of immigrants at the time and concluded that trying to follow the immigration laws in the United States was equal to or greater than the Internal Revenue Tax Laws and rulings. I gave up the idea.

Finding the naturalization records before 1906 takes some degree of detective-like investigation. In the first instance, you need to ascertain the exact location of the ancestor, at about the time the initial naturalization petition was filed. Next, the history of the court system in that place needs to be studied to determine where the petition would have been filed, that is, which court could have had jurisdiction to declare citizenship. If the court is identified, then the records also need to be located. Once located they need to be searched. It must be understood that, in some cases, the petition could have been filed in several different places.

One good indicator of the existence of an ancestor's naturalization record is a mention of naturalization in the U.S. Federal Census. The naturalization status of foreign-born people was listed on the Census records from 1890 to 1930. But the 1890 U.S. Federal Census records were partially lost to a fire and the rest destroyed by the U.S. Government with a very few exceptions. The problem in finding naturalization records prior to 1906 is highlighted in a statement made in a 1905 "Report to the President of the Commission on Naturalization" that states:
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. See Naturalization, United States Commission on, Milton Dwight Purdy, Gaillard Hunt, and Richard K. Campbell. Report to the President of the Commission on Naturalization Appointed by Executive Order March 1, 1905 ... U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905, page 89.
 In most cases, applying for naturalization was a two-step process; the alien filed a "declaration of intent" after being in the United States for at least two years and then after 3 more years filed a "petition for naturalization." Before 1906, the content of these documents varied from court to court as indicated in the above quote. A summary of the problem of locating the records is given in a short article entitled "Naturalization Records" on the U.S. National Archives website.

As the U.S. National Archives article point out, 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. (Conversely, an American woman who married an alien lost her U.S. citizenship, even if she never left the United States.) 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 filed before September 1906. See Prologue Magazine, Summer 1998, Vol. 30, No. 2 "Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married..." Women and Naturalization, ca 1802-1940, by Marian L. Smith
 The Utah State Archives article on Naturalization and Citizenship Records explains the status of wives and children more completely. Here is a quote:
With the passage of the Cable Act in 1922 women were allowed to naturalize on their own (42 Stat. 1021). A married women whose husband was a citizen did not need to file a Declaration of Intent. A woman who had lost her citizenship through marriage and regained it under the Cable Act could file to naturalize in any naturalization court. In 1936, Congress passed a new act allowing a woman who had lost her citizenship between 1907-1922 through marriage to a foreign national to take an oath of allegiance for citizenship to be restored. 
From 1790 to 1940 children under the age of 21 automatically assumed citizenship with the naturalization of their father. Before 1906 names of minor children rarely appear on the declaration or petition forms. If there was no father who could naturalize himself and his family, a minor alien who had lived in the U.S. for at least five years could file the declaration and petition together before his 23rd birthday. 
In 1929, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service began issuing a “Certificate of Derivative Citizenship” to women and children who had gained naturalization through the naturalization of their husband or father.
See also, "Tracing Women Using Immigration and Naturalization Records (National Institute)" from the Research Wiki.

Example of pre-1906 Declaration of Intent and Naturalization
At different times, various minority groups such as Chinese, Blacks, Native Americans and Hawaiians, were not permitted citizenship. Here is a list of the exclusionary acts as set forth in the Utah State Archives, Naturalization and Citizenship Records:
  • 1882 - Chinese Exclusion Act, which would be extended in some form until 1902 (22 Stat. 58).
  • 1891 - Classes of persons denied right to immigrate to U.S.—insane, paupers, persons with contagious diseases, persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors of moral turpitude, and polygamists (26 Stat. 1084)
  • 1900 - Hawaii Organic Act, granting U.S. citizenship to residents on or before August 12, 1898 (31 Stat. 141).
  • 1921 - Quota Act limiting immigration from each country based on population in 1910 Census (42 Stat. 5).
  • 1924 - Immigration Act with more limits, especially from Southern and Eastern Europe, plus Middle Easterners, East Asians, and Asian Indians (43 Stat. 153).
  • 1924 - Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship to all Native Americans born within the borders of United States (43 Stat. 253).
  • 1965 - "National quotas" replaced with "annual ceilings" for number of immigrants, strongly relying on family relationships for granting requisite visas for immigration (9 Stat. 911).
 After 1940, finding an immigrant became somewhat easier. Here is a quote from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") started issuing each non-citizen a unique A-number in 1940 as part of the Alien Registration Program (see Alien Registration Forms). On April 1, 1944, INS started using A-numbers to create individual files, called A-Files. INS opened or consolidated A-Files for every immigrant who arrived after April 1, 1944 or naturalized after April 1, 1956, and for immigration law enforcement matters. 
Before A-Files, many aliens had more than one file with the agency. For example, an immigrant might have a Visa File, an AR-2, and a C-File. Accessing all agency records for an alien often required INS personnel to search multiple records systems and indexes. INS introduced A-Files to streamline its record keeping. Issuing each immigrant an A-number allowed INS to create one file for each immigrant containing all the agency's records for the subject.

From April 1, 1944 to March 31, 1956, A-Files contained all INS records of any active case of an immigrant not yet naturalized. When the agency opened an A-File for a non-citizen with previous agency records, INS consolidated its other records for the subject into the new A-File. Upon naturalization, INS consolidated (refiled) all agency records of the new citizen in his or her Certificate File ("C-File") and the A-File ceased to exist. Beginning April 1, 1956, INS started filing all agency records for active cases, including naturalization records, in the subject's A-File. USCIS continues this practice today.
 I didn't particularly consider that this post would become a series, but I guess I forgot how complicated immigration and naturalization could be. The records, when found, can be very valuable or of little or no value and there is no way to predict what you will find. But I do need to continue with this discussion.


  1. My mother was three when she came to the USA with her parents from Germany in 1926. On her fathers admission document (1937) there was no mention of my mother. On her mothers admission document it is only for her. Where should I look for my mothers name?

    1. I am not sure what you are referring to as an "admission document." I suggest checking the passenger lists if you can determine the port of entry. Quoting from the National Archives website, 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 filed before September 1906.