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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Naturalization Records
by Rhonda R. McClure

December 28, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Many of us descend from immigrants, It is isn't a question of if, but when. Immigrants have been coming to the United States for hundreds of years. Over that time the method of granting citizenship has changed.

In the early years, before there was a United States, individuals gave an oath of allegiance to England. Few of these survive, and they do not help you in tracing back to the old country. That is why most people look for the naturalization records on their ancestors.

A look at naturalization records.

A Beginning

For genealogists, there are three records of importance: the declaration of intent, the petition (also sometimes referred to as the second papers) and the certificate of citizenship.

Prior to 1906 naturalization took place at the county court level. What this means to a researcher is that you need to determine in what county your ancestor was living at the time they would have been filing one of these papers. And in fact your ancestor could have filed his declaration of intent in one place, his petition in another place and received his certificate is still another. This is especially true of those seeking citizenship in the nineteenth century.

Pre-1906 Records

For those seeking records in the 1800s, you will want to concentrate on the declaration of intent, this record is apt to have the most information on where your ancestor came from. One of the main reasons that you want the naturalization records is to determine the town of origin of your ancestor. This is essential for most countries because the records you will then use are found on town or parish levels. You will find that the petition is generally very difficult to locate in this time period and when found does not contain very much information.

Post-1906 Records

After 1906 the Federal Government took over the complete naturalization process. This means that you can contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Washington for their naturalization records. And as you enter into the 20th century, the amount of information requested offers you a better insight into where your ancestor came from.

Locating Records

For those working in the nineteenth century, you will want to search the holdings of the Family History Library. They have microfilmed many of the available naturalization records found in county courthouses. This allows you to search indexes, declarations of intent, and often times the petitions and final certificates by yourself. You can then be sure that you have exhausted your search of these specific records, including variant spellings.

While the Family History Library has many of these records on microfilm, it is a good idea to also check the holdings of the closest National Archives branch. They have original records for many of those naturalizations prior to 1906. So, you will want to confirm that you have truly exhausted all possible available records in this search. To find out what each branch may have, you will want to visit the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) web site and select their Regional link.

For those wanting post-1906 naturalization records, you will need to contact the INS office in Washington and request a Freedom of Information form. For more information on the INS, you may want to visit the Immigration and Naturalization Service web site.

In Conclusion

Naturalization records may hold the clues you need in taking your ancestor back to the old country. The problem is often in finding those records. The important date to keep in mind is 1906 as that is when the records became the responsibility of the Federal Government.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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