By Larry Bowles
At some point in time, your paper trail will lead you to the inevitable: the immigrant. This could be your source of joy, your brick wall, or the thorn in your side. Any way you look at it, you are going to begin to have a more difficult time. In the following weeks, we will go though some sources that you will need to try to get an island and town. Some of these are more obscure sources and the librarians may not be of much help. Think of it like this: You are now a pioneer!
Naturalization Records (Background information)
If you are lucky enough, your immigrant ancestor became a U.S. citizen. Or maybe he meant to become one, but never quite finished. The following was written by GFS Larry (Larry Bowles) from the Scandinavian SIG on naturalization and papers. It is reprinted here with his consent.
Many of us have spent hours and hours looking through ship passenger lists looking for an ancestor with the hope that the passenger list will tell us their place of birth. Seldom is this true. Usually the ship's passenger lists contain the ship's name, date of arrival and port of arrival. Another and perhaps better source for locating an ancestor's place of birth would be the citizenship papers or as they are usually called the Naturalization Papers. I know many people who have obtained or had handed down to them an ancestor's Naturalization Certificate. These are often disappointing because they usually only show the renunciation of allegiance to the country of origin and the official recognition that the ancestor is now a bona fide American citizen. What many people don't realize is that this document is the last in a series of documents. Naturalization is at least a three step process.
Before taking you through the process, a little history of the naturalization process is in order. On March 26, 1790, Congress established a uniform rule of naturalization. This first federal law required residence in a state for one year and in the United States for two years. It specified that a new citizen must be a free, white person, and must have good moral character. In addition he was required to take an oath to support the Constitution. In 1798, Congress changed the law so that 14 years of residence and the filing of a Declaration of Intention were required before the filing of the final papers. This new law was repealed in 1802 back to requiring one year of state residency and five years of residency in the United States. The Declaration of Intention was to have been filed three years previously. The need to have good moral character and the requirement to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. remained on the statute books. This 1802 law also provided for automatic citizenship of children under the age of 16 and wives of naturalized males. Although minor modifications to the 1802 law were made at least eight times,this was the basic form until 1906. In 1906 a Federal statute created the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. If one's ancestor arrived as an immigrant after 1790, there is a good likelihood that they may have presented themselves somewhere in one or more courts to apply for and receive legal citizenship under the federal naturalization laws.
Some records, of course, have been lost, burned or otherwise destroyed, but the odds are good that some record of the transaction can be located. Since the first federal naturalization law, the courts have provided the arena for implementing those laws. Each immigrant desiring to begin the process of naturalization was required to present himself in a "court of record" to fill out the proper forms. After the mandatory residence period, he was again required to present himself in court, with witnesses, to fill out a petition for citizenship, take an oath of allegiance and prove he had met the residency requirement. It was not necessary that he complete both steps in the same court. Sometimes an immigrant filled out the first papers in a court near where they lived after arrival in the country, and then filed the final papers in some court further inland. Wherever he was he had his choice of courts, and generally he went to the nearest one, whether it was federal, state or local in jurisdiction. The courts, following their historic precedents, generally retained the documents filed by the applicants for citizenship and most courts still have those documents in their vaults. They are often folded, labeled, tied and stored in metal boxes - or on open bin-like shelves. Usually there is some form of an index, either alphabetical by name or chronological. Where two or more counties were formed from one common parent county, the naturalization records might be found either in the courthouse of the parent county or in the present day county courthouse. It pays to be aware of the date a county was created and the name of its parent county. Other records will also give evidence of citizenship with indications of the date naturalized and country of origin. Census records, 1870-1920, give varying details from foreign-born parents to the year of immigration and how many years naturalized.
Applications for donation lands, for homesteads, and other federal grants include naturalization records, since only U.S. citizens could apply for these grants. The Homestead Act of May 20, 1862, permitted settlers to acquire free land provided they would take up residence on it and improve it. Only a small registration fee was charged. The available land was located in the vast territories known as the public domain which had been surveyed by the government and offered to settlers as an inducement to move westward from the Atlantic Coast states. To qualify for a homestead under the Act, the applicant had to be an American Citizen or show that he had declared his intention to become an American. If it is known that an immigrant ancestor applied for a homestead, a search of the records might turn up a copy of his Declaration of Intention. Information about homestead grants might be obtained from the courthouse of the county in which the land islocated. When the legal description of the homestead land is obtained (from tax receipts, deeds or other county records), it is then possible to locate the actual application and other papers related to the claim. These papers are in the custody of the National Archives and are stored int the Washington National Records Center, 4205 Suitland Road, Suitland, Maryland 20409. However, before you send for the homestead file, it is necessary first to ascertain the "land-entry number." This can be supplied by the Federal Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Land Office, 350 So. Pickett St., Alexandria, Virginia, if the legal description is known. While this may seem complicated (remember we are dealing with hugh bureaucracy), it really isn't all that bad. It only takes two: a couple of letters and some looking through the land records of the county your immigrant ancestor lived in when he filed for his homestead. Remember the rewards could be the finding of those illusive Declaration of Intention Papers.
The first step: The Declaration of Intention (First Papers)
Before 1906, aliens could go before any court of record and declare their intention to become a citizen after they had resided in the U.S. for at least three years. If you know the county where your immigrant ancestor lived, check the court records for naturalization papers. Sometimes they will be listed separately, but many times they are mixed into the court records themselves. State and Federal Courts within a state should be checked if county records don't produce what you desire. These Declaration of Intention Papers vary with the period of time. Each county court had the prerogative of what information it asked. What follows is the ideal situation. I want to emphasize that many Declarations of Intention do NOT have all the features listed below but most have many of them. I simply want to show you what is possible. At the least, the older Declarations show name, country of birth, date of application, date and port of arrival in the U.S. What is probable can vary a little. Later records - after 1880 depending on the court will contain: Name, Address, Occupation, Birthplace, Nationality, Country from which emigrated, Birth date or age, Personal description, Date of intention, Marital status, Last foreign residence, Port of entry, Name of ship, Date of entry, and Date of document. A typical document would read: "I Antonio Souza, aged 33, occupation carpenter, do declare on oath that my personal description is: Color-white, Complexion-dark, Height-5 feet 7 inches, Weight 156 pounds, Color of hair - black, Color of eyes- brown, Other visible marks-none. I was born in Soajo, Portugal on the 13th day of April 1859; I now reside at 942 Water St., New Bedford, Massachusetts. I emigrated to the U.S. from Lisbon, Portugal on the vessel Peninsular; my last foreign residence was Soajo. It is now my bona fide intention to renounce my allegiance ...I arrived at the port of New York, hence by rail to New Bedford on or about the 25th day of June, 1881...." I hope from the information contained in this document you can see the value of obtaining first the Declaration of Intention." This is the first paper filed by an immigrant upon arrival. Please remember that if the information you are seeking does not appear in these papers, don't give up. Three years later, the immigrant will seek a Petition for Citizenship and the information you need may be there. They (the first or Declaration of Intention Papers) are probably the most important and the most overlooked papers on file.
The Petition for Citzenship (Second or Final Papers)
The next document filed would occur about three to five years after the Declaration of Intention. This is the Petition for Citizenship (Second or Final Papers). These papers include the Name, Address, Occupation, Date emigrated, Birthplace, Country from which emigrated, Birth date or age, Time in the U.S., Date of Intention, Name and age of spouse, Names of children, Ages of children, Last foreign residence, Port and mode of entry, Name of ship, Date of entry, Names of Witnesses, Date of document, address of spouse. Again, I want to emphasize that each county court may have abbreviated some of the above requirements especially if the Declaration of Intention is in the same court. Along with the information cited above are usually several documents from friends who attest to having known the immigrant for the last 3 to 5 years and telling of his good character. If you are really lucky, the document may have been from a relative born also in the same country but whose citizenship came earlier.
The Certificate of Naturalization
The last document was issued by the court shortly after the Petition for Citizenship. It is the actual Certificate of Naturalization making the immigrant a citizen of the United States. While some of these certificates have a great deal of information, the ones I have seen usually contain the applicant's name, country of origin, renunciation of former allegiance and certification that the individual is henceforth an American citizen. VERY IMPORTANT: If you have in your possession a Certificate of Naturalization and it has very little information of a genealogical nature on it, there are certain things you can do. When the court issued the Certificate Of Naturalization to you or the immigrant, it retained a stub which generally duplicated all the information of where the earlier documents are located. Many people make the mistake of asking for a Certificate of Naturalization and don't ask about the stub which are contained in the court records.
The last thing I need to comment on is the statutes that were passed in 1906 establishing the Immigration and Naturalization Service. These federal laws which became effective September 27, 1906 provided for a major reorganization of the administration of the naturalization process and required that copies of naturalization records be forwarded by the courts to a new agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in Washington D.C. I am going to spend the remainder of this lecture dealing with how to obtain genealogical information from the Federal Archives at the Dept. of Immigration and Naturalization for immigrants who became citizens after September 1906.
Obtaining Genealogical Information from the INS
Beginning Sept. 27, 1906, and continuing until April 1, 1956, copies of the court documents were sent to the central archive office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington D.C. Since 1956, the District Offices have received the copies and have created the files. The files contain investigative material of a personal nature and searching them can only be done by staff members. A person may request such inspection or a copy under the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. A master card index of all the files was created by the Service back to 1906. A request to search for the record of an immigrant ancestor naturalized on or after Sept. 27, 1906 may be made by submitting a new form G-639 which replaces the older G-641 form that many FHC Libraries currently have. To get a new form, you can contact one of the 11 regional branches of the National Archives and request in writing the new form. They are free. If you don't know the address of the closest regional branch of the National Archives to you, write to: I.N.S. F.O.I.A.- , Room 5340-, 425 I Street N.W., - Washington D.C. 20536. Follow the instructions on the form when it arrives.
Once you know where the location of the naturalization work on your ancestor, you can then make a direct inquiry to either that court or the appropriate National Archives Center which serves the state in which that court was located. An inquiry to the Director of the regional Center will produce the information needed, provided there is adequate identification of the person naturalized and the date and place of naturalization are given. The Centers do not charge for their services or for use of the records. A nominal fee is charged for the reproduction of any documents. As of Dec. 1995, they ask that you NOT send cash. The first 100 pages of reproduction and two hours of search time will be furnished without charge. There is a fee of 10 cents per page for photocopy duplication. For requests processed under the Freedom of Information Act, there may be a fee for quarter hours of time spent for searches for and review of records. Search fees are at the following rates: $2.25 clerical; $4.50 professional/computer operator. Fees will only be charged if the aggregate amount of search, copy, and/or review fees is more than $8.00. I have rarely seen a fee larger than $15.00 for an entire file sometimes containing as much as 40 or 50 pages of information about an immigrant ancestor and their family.
One unusual (but lucky for some) collection was done by the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930s where they managed to photocopy all the PRE-1906 naturalization records and to index them for the four New England states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The period covered is 1787 to 1906. These are in the National Archives together with a card index (Soundex System). Contact the National Archives in Washington D.C. for these four states. If your ancestor lived in New Jersey you will find naturalization records from 1749 through 1810 in the state library. In Massachusetts, naturalizations from 1885 to 1931 are on file in the Archives Division at the State House in Boston. (Note from Cheri: The New Bedford Public Library has the naturalization indices from MA, RI, ME, NH, and VT from 1791 to 1906.)
Let me conclude by recommending one book that has been of enormous value to tracing the naturalization records of immigrants to America. I have used it a great deal to support much of the information in this lecture. It is "Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor" by James C. Neagles and Lile Lee Neagles. Published by Everton Publishers Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah 84321, it is a must for every Family History Library or anyone wishing to know what each state and county court has in the way of Naturalization Records. You can look up any state, then county and find out if the courthouse in that county has Declaration of Intention Records, Petitions for Citizenship Papers and the Certificates of Naturalizations. The book has almost every county of every state in the United States listed with the availability of the records. Naturalization records are always worth the hard work it sometimes takes to find them. Be sure to obtain all of them, as sometimes there is information in them that can be found almost no other place. Once you have these papers, you will be able to find your ancestor on ship passenger lists much more easily. With naturalization records, you will be able to cross the "ocean barriers" to the old country and continue working on your family history. Thanks so much to all of you for your patience and I do hope this information will be of some use to you. This concludes my lecture on Citizenship Records.
(Note from Cheri: I have found "American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790-1985" by John J. Newman quite useful. If your local public library or LDS center does not have a copy, order from: AGLL, P.O. Box 329 Bountiful, UT 84011-0329 (801) 298-5358. Order # A0120 $5.95 +$3.50 S&H.)
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