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Finding Citizenship Papers of Ancestors

Locating naturalization or citizenship papers of ancestors is difficult and frustrating, but without these documents your research is stymied. You must know their exact origins before you can find records in the old countries.

Naturalization records are scattered and diversified. Prior to Sept. 27, 1906, a person could be naturalized by any federal, state or local court in the country. However, after that date, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was established as part of the Department of Commerce. It is now known as Immigration and Naturalization Service.

If your ancestor was naturalized after 1906, but you do not know where or when, write to the main office of the INS at 425 I Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20536, using Form G-641 (available from any INS office). There’s a nonrefundable fee of $15, but you will receive pertinent information about the date and place of naturalization. Then you can contact the appropriate office for further details.

Naturalizations prior to 1906 are more complicated. There are three kinds of papers: Declaration of Intention (called First Papers), Petition (called Second or Final papers) and Certificate of Naturalization. It is the latter that is most often found among family papers.

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Check for all these papers as the information contained in them is not necessarily the same. One may give only the country of birth, while another lists the town. These records usually include place and date of birth, date and port of entry, name of the ship on which the person arrived, names and addresses of two witnesses, and occasionally the names and ages of the petitioner’s wife and children.

The Declaration of Intention was the first paper filed by the immigrant. It was usually done three to five years prior to the second or final papers. Sometimes these papers were filed at the port of entry soon after the immigrant arrived. The Petition will always show when and where the Declaration was recorded, but not the reverse.

After fulfilling the residency requirement of at least five years (but not necessarily five years after filing the Declaration), the applicant went to court with two witnesses and filed the Petition. Then the final paper, or Certificate of Naturalization, was issued after he took the oath of allegiance.

Your ancestor could have filed his Declaration in Philadelphia, and his Petition in Kansas City, in any court of record--local, state or federal court. He could have gone to police court, court of common pleas, or a district court.

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To determine if your ancestor was naturalized, check the 1820, 1830, 1870 and 1900 censuses, whichever are applicable. Each census has a column dealing with the citizenship status of an individual.

For pre-1906 citizenship papers check first at the county courthouse in the vicinity of the immigrant’s residence. Often naturalizations are indexed along with other court business. However, not all will be found there. Many proceedings took place in federal courts, and most of these records are now in branch offices of the National Archives.

Usually only the male head of the family was naturalized, so if your ancestor came to America as a child, look for his father’s citizenship papers. Honorably discharged veterans who served between 1862 and 1918 may have been naturalized with no filing of declaration and only one year’s residence.

Many naturalization records, but not all, have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

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