[ Contents | Getting Started | Census Records | Naturalization Records | Researching Passenger Arrival in the United States ]

Naturalization Records

Naturalization Records are most important to your genealogical research. They can help you find the date, ship, and port of arrival, and the place of birth for your ancestor. How much information is found on them will depend on when the naturalization was done. The naturalization process did not have to happen in one court, or in one state. It was not mandatory and not all aliens became citizens, and not all completed the process once they started it.

In 1740 the British Parliament enacted laws that allowed the colonies to naturalize aliens that lived in the colonies for at least seven years. Those from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were not considered aliens. They disallowed aliens of Penn and NY. On 6 June 1776, the Continental Congress passed a law for allegiance to the United States and gave the right of naturalization. See "The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United States" (New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969) for more information.

On 26 March 1790 the US Congress established a uniform rule of naturalization. An alien had to reside in the United States for two consecutive years and one year in the state in which he was applying. He had to be of good character. Any court of record could do the naturalization.

The law was changed in 1795 adding that the requirement now must be three year residency before filing the Declaration of Intention, and a five year residency before applying for the final papers of citizenship. The requirement of one year in the state where application was applied for remained the same. The United States also asked that an alien renounce allegiance to any foreign government or nobility.

In 1798 a copy of the application was to be sent to the Secretary of State. Again the residency requirement was increased, this time to fourteen years in the United States.

1802 the government repealed the fourteen year requirement and returned it to five years.

In 1804 a law was passed allowing the widows and children of an alien who had filed for citizenship but died before receiving Final Papers to be granted naturalization.

1824 residency was again changed so that once you filed a Declaration of Intention you would only have to wait two years to apply for Final Papers.

In 1855 any alien female marring a United States citizen could automatically become naturalized.

A law was passed in 1862 that said if an alien served in the United States Army and was over twenty-one, they could become naturalized after one year. Seamen on US merchant vessel could become citizens once they served for three years with a law passed in 1872. Navy and Marine servicemen were allowed
citizenship after three years of service in 1894.

The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 gave citizenship to African Americans, but in 1882 any Chinese alien was excluded from becoming a citizen.

An Office of Immigration was established to look over naturalization in 1891.

It wasn't until September 26, 1906 that the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was established to supervise the process of naturalization. This is why only records from after this date can be found at the INS office in Washington, D.C. At this time the residency requirement was made two years in the United States before an alien could file a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, and five years residency before filing the Final Papers.

Certificate of Arrival

The 1906 Naturalization Act (June 1906 - June 1924) required a Certificate of Arrival for aliens filing a Declaration of Intention. The certificate would verify to the court (for naturalization) that a person arrived when they said they did. The government was required to check the date given on the naturalization application with the ship's passenger lists. Before September 27, 1906 this was not done. This certificate should be on file with the court it was applied for in and not at the INS.

In 1907 a woman who was a United States citizen could lose her citizenship if she married an alien. This was not repealed until 1922, and she did not get back her citizenship until 1936.

Military Records

On 17 July 1862 a special act was passed allowing honorable discharge US military men to received special consideration for naturalization. With the start of World War I in 1918, any alien who served in the military could be naturalized without meeting the residency requirements.

A soldier did not just become a citizen by being in the military, they still had to go to court for it. The government did not want to send a soldier overseas unless he had the protection of US citizenship and therefore offered them naturalization. The soldier was usually quickly taken to the nearest Federal Court where he would filed all papers. Some were processed immediately, others had to come back for the oath.

If you know that your ancestor became a citizen as a result of service, you might check the Federal Court Records, Regional National Archives, or write to the Main National Archives in Washington, DC for a search of records. They have an Index of WWI Soldiers. It is not on microfilm.

1921 brought about the first Immigration Act based on national origin, and for the first time in 1922 women over twenty-one were allowed to become citizens of the United States. No residency requirement was necessary.

Between 1855-1922, women could automatically become a citizen when her husband did, and so would the child, but they could not on their own. A child between 16-21 had to wait until their 21 birthday to file a declaration to become a citizen. Unfortunately, the names and information for women and children were not included in the husband's papers.

On 2 June 1924 the Citizens Act allowed Indians born on reservations and Indian territories to become citizens.

The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required fingerprinting and registration of an alien within thirty days of their arrival to the United States.

1952 Immigration and Nationality Act disallowed the setting of quotas on ethnic groups.

Documents of Naturalization

There are THREE documents that had to obtain for Naturalization.

  1. Declaration of Intent filed first and called First Papers. In general, at least two years residency is required after immigration to file the Declaration of Intention. Then three years after the Declaration, the Petition can be filed. Even if the alien never became a citizen, the Intent Papers should be on file with the court.

    An Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution had to be taken passed by congress on 26 March 1790. 29 January 1795 the law was changed to a more stringent law and read, that any free white alien might become a citizen. He would be required to "declare in court their intention to become citizens of the United States and to renounce any allegiance to a foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty three years before admission as citizens". One year state residency was also required. If an alien was born to nobility or title, they were required to renounce that status or title.

    The Act of 1802 specified the following:

    1. Declare Intention to become a citizen before a court.
    2. Take an oath of allegiance to the United States.
    3. Meet the residency requirements of 5 years in the US, 1 year in the State.
    4. Renounce allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty.
    5. Be of good moral character.

    This stood until 1906 basically when there were changes in evidence required.

  2. Petition for Naturalization was the second step filed with the court. By then the alien would have had met residency requirements of five years in the United States, one year in the state, and declared intention to become a citizen.

  3. Final Papers or Certificate granting citizenship.
Be sure to get all three. The first two contain the most information, such as, full name, date of birth, place of origin, date of arrival, ship arrived on, who their sponsor was, where they were living at the time of petition.

On the 1920 and 1900 Federal Census information is given for naturalization. Abbreviations for Naturalization on census records: al means alien, na means naturalized, pa means 1st papers have been filed, meaning the application or declaration of intention.

Where to Write

Citizenship/Naturalization FROM September 26, 1906 could have been done in a court assigned to do naturalization. The court had to send a copy of the documents to the Federal Naturalization Service in Washington, DC. So there are two copies of the document. These documents were used in the process, Declaration, Petition, and Certificate. It was the Petition that would have the most information at this time.

To obtain the documents from September 26, 1906 send a letter referencing "RE: Freedom of Information Act", or use Form G-639 to

Immigration & Naturalization Service
FOIA/PA Officer
425 I Street NW
ULLICO Building
2nd Floor
Washington D.C. 20536
Phone: 202-514-3278 Fax: 202-514-3902

Give Name, date of birth, and place of birth, date of Naturalization if you know it.

See http://www.nara.gov/genealogy/natural.html for more information. The form G-639 can be downloaded from the INS at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov.

US Immigration and Naturalization Service
Home Page http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/. INS Forms http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/forms/index.html.

Naturalization documents BEFORE September 26, 1906 could have been done in almost ANY court and you will have to try and find that court. Not an easy process! If the processing was done in a Federal court, the records are with the Regional National Archives. If it was done in a state or local court, the records may still be in that courthouse, or in an archive for that courthouse. There is only one copy of the documents. Information in records before this date can vary from a great deal to almost nothing. The Declaration of Intention will have the most information.

You should write to the INS Regional Archives if done in a federal court; OR write to the state court, OR County Clerk's office.

National Archives Northeastern Regional Office
201 Varick Street
New York City, NY 10014-4811

For Naturalization Records in New York before the date Sept 27, 1906 (1792-1906) email to archives@newyork.nara.gov ($10 for up to 20 pages.) They have copies of records filed in Federal, State, and local courts. (US District court of the Southern District of NY-Manhattan and Bronx 1824-1991, Eastern District of New York-Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island 1865-1857)

Alien Registration

Alien Registration began after 28 June 1940, it was also called the Smith Act.

A-Files (Alien Registration)

Any alien, 14 and older, who did not become naturalized by 1941 were required to register at a Post Office with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They were fingerprinted at that time. The registration form was then sent to the INS in Washington, DC. The INS then sent them a paper called Alien Registration Receipt Card (it was white). The alien also had to report immediately to the INS any change of residence (these were not kept in the file).

In 1942 replacement cards were issued. The alien had to present the white Alien Registration card to receive the new GREEN Card, Form 1-151, the Alien Registration Receipt Card. It was given to Legal aliens only. This Green card is now the 1-551 card.

The files are in the custody of the Immigration & Naturalization Service. These forms are not open to the public and therefore not on microfilm. You can access them by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application or Privacy Act (PA) application. To request a search send a letter referring to the Freedom of Information Act, or use form G-639 found at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/exec/forms/frmsbymail.asp.

Send to:
US Immigration and Naturalization Service
Attention: FOIA/PA
2nd Floor ULLB
425 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20536

Tell them that you are requesting information under the Freedom Of Information Act. You can also do this through your local INS office, which might provide a faster response. Provide Full Name of Person, and other names used, Country of Birth, Date of Birth (or approximate date) Residence when registration was filed.

Voter Registration Lists

There are records of Naturalized Voter Registration lists (some available by film through a Family History Center) which provides the name, address, ED and AD (if it applied) and the court and date of naturalization.

Mistakes on Naturalization Documents

Mistakes on the naturalization documents are very common especially before 1906. Before September 26, 1906, most naturalization courts asked the immigrants when they arrived, what port, and on what ship. The immigrant answered to the best of his memory, and many did not remember well. Dates and ship names were often forgotten. The government and court did not check the information given but rather just believed the information given.

For naturalization after September 26, 1906, the ship's passenger lists and the information was checked by the INS and the court was given a certificate
of arrival.

[ Contents | Getting Started | Census Records | Naturalization Records | Researching Passenger Arrival in the United States ]

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Originally Composed: Sunday Oct 3rd, 1999.
Date last modified: Sunday Jan 16th, 2000.