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Naturalization Records

Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. It is a voluntary act; naturalization is not required. Of the foreign-born persons listed on the 1890 through 1930 censuses, 25 percent had not become naturalized or filed their "first papers."

Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. These records can provide a researcher with information such as a person's birth date and location, occupation, immigration year, marital status and spouse information, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.

Naturalization records are documents generated from a court procedure granting U.S. citizenship. The records typically include four documents: 1. Declaration of Intention to become a citizen; 2. Petition for Naturalization; 3. Naturalization Certificate; and, 4.Oath of Allegiance.

If an ancestor immigrated to the United States from another country and desired to become a citizen, he would have to go through the naturalization process. An individual applied for naturalization in two steps. First, he filed a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen. After fulfilling a residence requirement, usually five years, he filed a petition for naturalization. The declaration is sometimes called "first papers" and the petition "final papers."

Before 27 September 1906, the naturalization process was carried out largely in state and local courts, and there were no standardized forms. These naturalization records are not easy to find. The individual may have filed his declaration of intention in one court and his petition for citizenship in another court in a different locality. Pre-1907 records may be in the custody of a state or local court or in the state archives. For pre-1906 naturalizations:

  • Contact the State Archives for the state where the naturalization occurred to request a search of state, county, and local courts records.
  • Contact the NARA regional facility that serves the state where naturalization occurred to request a search of Federal court records

Since 27 September 1906, most naturalizations have been processed in federal courts using standard declaration and petition forms.

Until 1922, a woman married to an American citizen acquired citizenship without going through the naturalization process.

Print Resources

  • Bockstruck, Lloyd deWitt. Denizations and Naturalizations in the British Colonies in America, 1607-1775. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2005.
  • Neagles, James C. and Lila Lee Neagles. Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishing Co., 1975.
  • Newman, John J. American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985. Indianapolis: Family History Section, Indiana Historical Society, 1985.
  • Schaefer, Christine. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997. List of naturalization record repositories by state and county and microfilmed records available from the National Archives and LDS Family History Library. Not complete.
  • Szucs, Loretto Dennis. They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998.  Discussion of the naturalization process and strategies for locating naturalization records, with a detailed listing of naturalization records held by each National Archives regional archive.
  • United States Works Projects Administration. Index to records of aliens' declarations of intention and/or oaths of allegiance, 1789-1880, in US circuit courts etc. 11 Volumes compiled by WPA.