As I have noted, discovering the origin of the immigrant is one of the most challenging and at the same time, most common, issues facing genealogists. I spent a considerable time searching for the birthplace of one of my ancestors in Ireland and thought I might find the place noted in naturalization records in Pennsylvania. In this case, I looked for records from his children who were born in Ireland. I was disappointed to find that the naturalization documents listed the birthplaces as "Ireland" and that was not much help.
The question for this installment is where are the records?
As I noted in the last installment, before 1906, naturalization was handled by local courts. So the documents are scattered all over the country. After 1906, the records have been kept in the National Archives. There are some concentrations of the records however. Here are some of the major repositories of naturalization records:
- Ancestry.com has a substantial number of collections dealing with passenger lists, immigration and naturalization records. I suggest consulting the Card Catalog and searching in specific collections.
- FamilySearch.org also has a substantial number of records in their Historical Record Collections. There are also a large number of records still in microfilm format. I suggest searching the Catalog by location; country, state, county and city or town.
- The U.S. National Archives also has records, in both paper and microfilm formats, for naturalizations both before 1906 and after. You can rent microfilm copies of some of the records. See Naturalization Records.
- WorldVitalRecords.com is also a substantial database containing a substantial collection of naturalization records. It is part of MyHeritage.com and you can also search through the MyHeritage.com website.
- German Roots Online Searchable Naturalization Records and Indexes. A list of links to state and local websites.
- FamilySearch.org Research Wiki. A series of articles on Immigration and Naturalization with substantial links.
- The Olive Tree Genealogy NaturalizationRecords.com, another list of websites.
- Your Guide to Finding and using Naturalization Records.
- Cyndi's List, Immigration, Emigration and Migration Records.
There are many more websites with articles, lists and links. Do a Google search on "online naturalization records" for hundreds of links.
How do you go about finding the records?
The first step is locating the immigrant in the United States. You have to identify a specific event in the ancestor's life at a specific time and place. Without a specific location of an event, you cannot be sure you are searching the right records. Next, you need to review census records and other records to see if there is any mention of the ancestor's naturalization. You need this information to narrow the extent of the record search. Once you have a place and a time frame, you need to identify the courts having jurisdiction in the time and place where you ancestor lived and determine which courts would have had jurisdiction over naturalization petitions. Moving on, you then need to determine where the courts records are located and search the records (if they still exist). As I indicated, before 1906, you might be disappointed at the lack of information in the record. Then again, you might hit the jackpot.