Q: We are looking for evidence of citizenship for my father who immigrated from Denmark and was in W.W.I. My father was released from duty with an honorable discharge in France. I am Also trying to locate where he would have received his citizenship. My question is, would the U.S. Army have given him his citizenship, therefore he would not have gone through the courts any where? -- Rob
A: Naturalization laws have been changing since the first act was passed on 26 March 1790. Through the years, changes to the act have affected who was allowed to enter the country and how long they had to reside in the United States before they could apply for citizenship.
An excellent guide to the naturalization process can be found in They Became Americans by Loretto Dennis Szucs. This volume offers an insight into the changes in the laws and how they affected the immigrants who were involved in the naturalization process.
Naturalization laws have been changing since the first act was passed in 1790.
The Act of 17 July 1862
The first time that military service affected naturalization was during the Civil War. The Act of 17 July 1862 gave special consideration to those aliens who served in the U.S. military and received an honorable discharge.
The act of 17 July 1862 (12 Stat. 597) states: Any alien, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who has enlisted, or may enlist in the armies of the United States, either the regular or the volunteer forces, and has been, or may be hereafter, honorably discharged, shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, upon his petition, without any previous declaration of intention to become such; and he shall not be required to prove more than one year's residence.
This meant that those who enlisted would be allowed to by pass the then current requirements of first submitting a declaration of intent and they would not have to wait the normal five years residency ordinarily required.
The Act of 9 May 1918
The advent of World War I brought about the Act of 9 May 1918. This act actually consolidated the earlier act of 1862 and another act in 1894 together. The act of 1894 extended who was covered by these naturalization privileges to include those who served five consecutive years in the United States Navy or did one enlistment in the Marines.
The Act of 9 May 1918 (40 Stat. 542) states: Any alien serving in the military or naval service of the United States during the time this country is engaged in the present war may file his petition for naturalization without making the preliminary declaration of intention and without proof of the required five years residence within the United States.
Where Are Their Records?
Generally when we are searching for naturalization records our first stop is county courthouses. For regular immigrants who were naturalized prior to 1906, this would be the likely repository for the records. After 1906, the first step is to contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
However, when you are looking for naturalization records for a member of the armed forces, you need to first determine where the soldier was stationed. Unlike other immigrants, who were naturalized at their legal residence, the soldiers were naturalized at the military post where they were stationed or at a nearby court.
It Wasn't Automatic
One of the biggest misconceptions about the naturalization of our immigrants who were soldiers in the United States military was that their naturalization was automatic. This was not the case. None of the acts that were passed made the process automatic. The only benefits that these military immigrants were afforded was a faster process. The waiving of the declaration of intent and the shortening of the length of residency simply made the process faster.