Naturalization Records

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Immigrants detail their histories when applying for U.S. citizenship.

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  • Original author: fold3_catalog
  • Created Date: 21 Dec 2006
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Description

As soon as the United States became an independent country, it enacted rules for citizenship. In 1790, Congress passed the first naturalization act. It was repealed and replaced with another in 1795. Although naturalization requirements have changed many times since then, it was the act of 1795, further defined in 1802, that initiated a two-part recording process that resulted in two distinct sets of papers for us to locate when researching new Americans.

Prior to 1906, documents were filed in territorial, state, or federal courts without consistency. That can make finding someone's record today difficult since you can't be certain in which court it was filed. In addition, there was no consistency of forms. A naturalization petition issued in Massachusetts looks different from one in Pennsylvania. Likewise, we find required information and the details of someone's background varying between states. Beginning in 1906, standard forms were issued from the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, which is why you will often find 1906 as the beginning or ending date of a series.

The two steps required after 1795 are declarations of intention and naturalization petitions. Confusing the two is common since they sound as if they serve the same purpose. But they document two distinct steps an immigrant needed to take, and understanding their differences is important for anyone accessing Fold3's online naturalization records.

Declarations of intention, or first papers, could be filed as soon as the immigrant arrived in the United States. Originally, they contained little biographical data, but the surviving records are helpful in identifying from where someone emigrated and their first residence in the US. Papers filed after 1906 contain much more information.

Naturalization petitions, also known as second or final papers, were filed after the applicant had met the necessary requirements of citizenship and residency. Before 1906, their content varied, often including some personal data helpful to researchers like names of witnesses, how long a petitioner lived in the country, residence, age, and former nationality. One requirement of citizenship was to renounce allegiance to the leader of one's country of birth.

Before the 19th amendment, a woman became a citizen by marrying a citizen, or through a husband who became a citizen. Although women were never directly barred from naturalization, few sought it. It wasn't until 1922 that women had to become citizens in their own right. Race stopped being a consideration in 1952.

Naturalization records are some of the most difficult documents to locate prior to 1906 and the answers they provide can be surprisingly sparse. But once you find an immigrant's intent or petition, you will rarely be disappointed by the story it tells.

Naturalization Records of the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, 1876-1915

This example of a naturalization file for Costica Serbanescu of Romania includes his Declaration of Intention (1904), Oath of Allegiance (1913), and Petition for Naturalization (1913).

Immigrant to Citizen: Patrick Murphy

You can find naturalization information in three different formats at Fold3:

  • Declarations
  • Petitions
  • Indexes

Examples of declarations and petitions are shown in the images on this page, or through the links below. To see the variety of information available in the indexes, see Indexes to Naturalization Records.

Patrick James Murphy immigrated from Ireland to New York in 1895, and settled in the vicinity of Boston. On 27 April 1904, he initiated the naturalization process by completing a Declaration of Intention in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts at Boston. After meeting the requirements for citizenship, he completed and signed a Petition for Naturalization, including an "Oath of Allegiance," on 4 January 1911.

There are several items of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about Patrick Murphy in both of these documents.

The declaration requires him to "Renounce allegiance to Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." The document provides us with the following information:

  • Name: Patrick J. Murphy
  • Residence: Cambridge, in said District [Massachusetts]
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Place of birth: Ireland
  • Arrival date: 25 September 1895
  • Arrival place: New York, NY

In the seven years between declaration and petition, Patrick moved and had more children. More details of his life are provided in the petition, plus you can view his signature and those of his witnesses.

  • Name: Patrick James Murphy
  • Address: 10 River Street, Hudson, Massachusetts
  • Occupation: Laborer
  • Date of Birth: 17 March 1873
  • Place of birth: Dunmurry, Ireland
  • Port and date of departure: Queenstown, Ireland, on 18 September 1895
  • Port and date of arrival: New York, on 25 September 1895
  • Vessel: Britanic
  • Wife's first name and nationality: Catherine, Ireland (see under "other" for her age)
  • Children:
    • Julia, born 27 September 1902, Hudson , Mass.
    • Margaret, born 18 March 1904, Cambridge, Mass.
    • Patrick, born 14 March 1907, Cambridge, Mass.
    • Denis, born 28 June 1910, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Witnesses (including their signatures):
    • Charles F. Murphy, clerk, Cambridge
    • John Cahalane, police officer, Cambridge
  • Other:
    • height: 5'7"
    • color: white
    • complexion: light
    • eyes: gray
    • hair: brown
    • age of wife: 33

Cross-referencing documents

Consider using other titles at Fold3 to learn more about an individual or family. In the 1911 Hudson [MA] City Directory, there is a Patrick J. Murphy listed as a rubber worker, living at 10 Central Street, less than a block from 10 River Street. It is quite likely this is the same man.

Search tips and tricks

One man, two states - Rocco Palombizio

Rocco Palombizio filed his Declaration of Intention in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on 29 March 1907. But you won't find it listed in the New York records because he filed his Petition for Naturalization in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, at Boston, on 22 October 1909. Both documents are on file in the Boston records.

Rocco Francisco Palombrizio, was a clergyman, born 17 August 1874, sailed from Italy to New York, then to Boston where he resided at 14 North Bennett Street. His witnesses were other clergymen living at the same address.

You can also find the index card for Rocco Palombizio's naturalization petition in the Index to Petitions and Records of Naturalizations of the U.S. and District Courts for the District of Massachusetts, 1907-1966 at Fold3.

Witnesses count, too

The naturalization intentions and petitions are keyed by Fold3 so that searches can be made on any important piece of information in the files. You may want to look for the name of someone you are researching, even if you know they were already a citizen. Many citizens show up as witnesses for others. Finding a name of witness will help you place someone in a state on a particular date. It will also give you a clue to neighbors, sponsors, or friends of the person being naturalized.

Petitions are two pages

Typically, page 1 and 2 of a petition will appear in the same image viewer window, yet that is not always the case. If you can view only one page of a petition, look for the other page among the list of search results for that individual.

For more information

"Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married . . ." Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940 By Marian L. Smith

Written for the Summer 1998 edition of Prologue Magazine (v 30, no 2), this article explains the history of women and naturalization. It is available through the National Archives website at www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/summer/women-and-naturalization-1.html.

The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, writes about "Naturalizations: federal or state" in this 17 August 2012 blog entry: http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2012/08/17/naturalizations-federal-or-state

Sources

All of the naturalization records available at Fold3, and cited below, are from the Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives, Washington.

They include:

California

Naturalization Records of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1887-1940, NARA Publication Number M1524.
Naturalization Records of the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, 1876-1915, NARA Publication Number M1614.
 
Louisiana
Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division: Petitions, 1838-1861, NARA Publication Number P2233 (descriptive pamphlet not available).
 
Massachusetts
Petitions and Records of Naturalizations of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts of the District of Massachusetts, 1906-1929, NARA Publication Number M1368.
 
Maryland
Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, 1906-1930, NARA Publication Number M1640.
 
Pennsylvania
Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1795-1930, NARA Publication Number M1522.
Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. District Court, 1820-1930, and the Circuit Court, 1820-1911, for the Western District of Pennsylvania, NARA Publication Number M1537. (Please note that the NARA descriptive pamphlet available at the preceding link contains a typographical error in two places, where the year 1922 appears in the title, instead of the correct year of 1911.)
Naturalization Petitions of the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, 1906-1930, NARA Publication Number M1626.

Comments

Perhaps I missed it, but is there an indication within the description of each naturalization database as to what locations are covered within a broad area, e.g., "southern," "eastern," etc.?

22 Dec 2009

Information on tips will be helpful in search for ancestors. Thanks

12 Feb 2008