In order to know when to look for an ancestor's Naturalization papers, it
is necessary to know something of the history of Naturalization.
History of Naturalization (as it applies to Ireland) in the United States:
Until 1790, the Naturalization process was under state control. On March
30, 1790, Congress passed the first federal naturalization law, under the
Constitutional mandate "The Congress shall have power . . . to establish a
uniform rule of naturalization." Under this first federal naturalization law,
one year residence in the state and two years in the United States, were
required. Applicants were required to be of good moral character, and to take
an oath of loyalty, and only free white people were included.
In 1795, the residence requirement was increased to five years. On June
18, 1798, the Federalist Party, wary of the influx of Irishmen, who were
primarily Jefferson Republicans, pushed through a new law, increasing the
residency requirement again, this time to fourteen years, and a declaration of
intent was now required five years before filing the final Naturalization
Due to political changes, on April 14, 1802, this law was repealed, and
replaced with a law requiring five years of US residency, and one year state
residency, and a Declaration of Intention filed three years in advance. In
addition to the requirement that the applicant have good moral character, and
swear allegiance to the U.S., this new law required that the applicant
renounce forever "all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince,
potentate, State or Sovereignty whatever," and specifically the head of the
country of emigration. Under this law, the children and wives of naturalized
citizens were automatically granted citizenship. Persons who arrived in the
US as children and those who had been honorably discharged from the US
military were not required to file a Declaration of Intention. Those with
honorable military discharges were eligible for naturalization after only one
On September 27, 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was
created, as a part of the Department of Commerce and Labor. (It is currently
a part of the Department of Justice.) Until 1906, the federal law did not
designate which courts were to perform the naturalization, and it was not
necessary to be naturalized in the same court where the Declaration of Intent
had been filed. The prospective citizen could file his Declaration of
Intention at the court nearest his home, but by the time he was naturalized,
he might be living elsewhere, and subsequently file the Naturalization in a
different court. Until 1906, the courts used for Naturalization included
everything from Territorial Court to US District Court. Any court doing
Naturalizations in 1906 was allowed to continue, however, the federal courts
are charged with naturalization work under the 1906 law. The 1906 law also
required that a copy of all naturalizations be forwarded to the Bureau of
Immigration and Naturalization.
Few women were naturalized prior to 1922, when women's suffrage became
law. For example, there are over 200,000 naturalization records in the
Philadelphia City Archives, of which about fifty are of women.
Location of Records:
Some local courts have transferred their Naturalization records to state
depositories, such as state archives or libraries, or to a state court.
Others have placed theirs in the nearest US Court. Some others have been lost
or destroyed. However, the majority of the records remain in the court where
they were originally filed. In cases where counties have split into two or
more smaller counties, the records may be found in either the "parent" county
courthouse, or the "present" county courthouse.
Since many immigrants filed their Declaration of Intent soon after
immigration, the courthouses in port cities are a good place to begin a
search. When the residency requirement had been filled, the immigrant would
again go to a court, this time to file his Petition for Citizenship. This
included a statement that he had met the residency requirements, and an Oath
of Allegiance. A witness (or witnesses) were required to swear to the
residency claim. When the court was satisfied that all legal requirements had
been met, a Certificate of Naturalization was issued.
The National Archives has copies of many of the documents related to
naturalizations in the Field Branches. Documents for 1906 and later will also
be on file at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. To obtain
infomation from the INS, you must complete form G-641, the Application for
Verification of Information from Information and Naturalization Service
Records. Often, but not always, the Declaration of Intent will have more complete
information than the final papers.
There may be special naturalization papers connected with military
service if the immigrant was a veteran. Local and federal courts usually
record naturalizations of military personnel or veterans in separate ledgers
which may be indexed with other naturalizations in that jurisdiction.
In the 1930's, the WPA began a project of photocopying and indexing
naturalization records from 1787 to 1906, but only four New England states
were completed - Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
A listing of location of records in some states.
What Information Does the Declaration of Intent Contain???
Like many government records, this varies by year. The first Declarations
contained a lot of biographical information. However, between 1828 and 1838,
the courts adopted an abbreviated form, giving only the date the Declaration
was filed, name and approximate age of the individual, place of birth, name of
monarch, and declarant's signature.
After the new federal law was passed in 1906, Declarations include the
following: name; age; occupation; description, including race, complexion,
height, weight, hair and eye color, scars, etc.; birthdate and place; place of
residence in America; port and vessel of embarkation; residence prior to
immigration; name of monarch; port and date of arrival; signature (or mark) of
declarant; and date of declaration.
What Information Does the Petition for Naturalization Contain???
The answer is - VERY LITTLE of genealogical importance, prior to 1906.
The petition states the date and name of the court before which the applicant
made his declaration (useful for finding the Declaration, which does have some
genealogical information), the name of a witness to the applicant's moral
character (who could be a friend or relative), date of petition, and
The petition for a minor does list the year and port of immigration.
Prior to 1850, a Declaration was often filed for the minor on the same date as
the petition for naturalization.
Petitions for military veterans include the name of the military company
and regiment, length of service, and date of honorable discharge.
Petitions filed after 1906 include name; address; occupation; birth date
and place; date and port of emigration; date and port of arrival; date and
court of declaration; name, age, and birthplace of wife, if applicable; name,
birthdate, and birthplace for any children; affidavits of petitioner and
witnesses; oath of allegiance; court order naturalizing petitioner; and date
and number of Certificate of Naturalization.
Interpreting Data from Naturalizations:
If your ancestor is listed in the 1900 United States Census, you will
find naturalization clues there. In the naturalization column, 3 codes were
NA = Naturalized
AL = Alien (Has not begun the naturalization process)
PA = Papers Applied for (Declaration of Intent has been filed, but not yet
Bear in mind that a person filing a Declaration of Intent would be at
least 18 years of age, since minors did not file Declarations. Also note the
applicable waiting times before application, and between Declaration of Intent
and Petition for Naturalization. These facts will help you estimate your
ancestor's date of arrival, and save many hours of poring over passenger
For more information about the naturalization process, and a list of films
available in the National Archives, click
For information and addresses for each of the 13 National Archive Branches
Tutorial on Naturalization - New York State Archives
NATURALIZATION: Historical Overview and "How-to" Books:
Hoffpauir, Corinne Graves. Naturalization Records: Escape the "Run Around!"
The Genealogical Helper, p. 11, March/April 1985. Everton Publishers, Logan,
Kansas, Sidney. Immigration, Exclusion, Deportation and Citizenship of the
United States of America. 3rd edition. 1948. Matthew Bender Co., New York, NY.
Kettner, James H. The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870. 1978.
University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.
Neagles, James H. & Lila Lee. Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to
Naturalization Records. Revised edition. 1986. Everton Publishers, Logan,
UT. Washington, DC.
Location of naturalization records for every state in US; history of
naturalization; explanation of naturalization process; guide to determining
date and place of ancestor's naturalization.
Newman, John J. American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985.
1985. Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN.
History of naturalization, procedures required, who could be naturalized,
Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United
Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD.
Smith, Marian L., U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration, and Naturalization
Service. An Immigrant Nation: United States Regulation of Immigration,
1798-1991. 1991. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration, and Naturalization Service.
Directory of Courts Having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings. Revised
1979. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
U. S. Department of Labor. Historical Sketch of Naturalization in the United
States. 1926. Department of Labor, Washington, DC.
Oszakiewski, Robert Andrew, (Compiler) Maryland Naturalization Abstracts,
volume 1: Baltimore County and Baltimore City 1784-1851. 1995. Westminster,
Oszakiewski, Robert Andrew, (Compiler) Maryland Naturalization Abstracts,
volume 2: The County Court of Maryland 1779-1851, The U. S. Circuit Court for
Maryland 1790-1851, Covering all of Maryland except Baltimore City and County.
1996. Westminster, Maryland.
Maryland & Delaware Genealogist, v. 18 (1977), #2-4, v. 19 (1978) #1.
Naturalization records for New Castle County, Delaware, court - 1826-1858
Richard J. Wolfe, "Early New York Naturalization Records in the Emmet
Collection; with a List of Aliens Naturalized in New York 1802-1814," Bulletin
of The New York Library LXVII (1963) 211-217
Contains the names of 115 aliens, Mostly Irish, naturalized in New York
during the period covered. Gives name, place of birth, age, allegience,
country from which the alien emigrated, place of intended settlement, and
Wyand, Jeffrey A. and Florence L. Colonial Maryland Naturalizations. 1975.
Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, MD.
Check locations for naturalizataion records, or
USA Index - or -
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