What You Should Know About Naturalizations



Bettie Cummings Cook, CG

Originally published in the Tri-State Packet, September 2007


For the most part, from 1790 to 1906, aliens were required to reside in America five years before filing an intention for naturalization, and either two years, one year, or six months in the county of residence (depending on the requirement of law at the time) before filing a petition for naturalization. There is little information in naturalization records in southern Indiana before 1906. The records show name of alien, name of ship on which he arrived, the date, and the county from which he came. In the absence of standardized forms, state and county courts chose their own. That is the reason why information can vary from county to county and county to state.

Congress in 1790, 1795, and 1802 required naturalization to occur in a court of record. The steps of declaration of intention and petition for naturalization did not have to be filed in the same court, county, or state. The 1906, 1940, and 1952 acts continued permitting any court to naturalize. A single court may have presided over several jurisdictions such as civil, probate, equity, or criminal proceedings, and researchers are advised to check all court levels and all minute books, chancery order books and civil order books particularly in the Office of the Circuit Court. By the 1840s, some courts had ledgers for “Second Papers” or “Final Records.”

In 1906 and again in 1952, further acts standardized the forms and required facts about the alien, his wife, children, affidavits of witness about his moral character and length of residency, and declaration of intention. A number of acts were passed and rescinded between 1828 and 1952 regarding the length of residence required in the U.S. before filing, the length of time between filing Intention and Declaration, status of wives, children, stepchildren, name chances of aliens, armed forces, veterans, widows, insanity, enemy aliens, and other factors. Some federal acts forgave requirements for filing a declaration. Researchers who study John J. Newman’s American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790-1985 (Indianapolis IN: Indiana Historical Society, 1985) will have a much better understanding of an alien ancestor’s process of naturalization and how the law affects where to locate his records. These records are not always found where “how to” books suggest.

After World War I was declared in 1914, the U.S. government was suspicious of aliens in the country. In April of 1917, the government ordered all males older than 14 who were still “natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects” of the German Empire to declare allegiance by becoming citizens. In 1918, an act of Congress included women aged 14 and older. As a result, Germans who had been living in America, some for many years, flocked to the courts and filed an application for naturalization.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, Washington, D.C. 20536, has duplicate records of all naturalizations that occurred after 26 September 1906. Inquiries about citizenship granted after that date should be sent to the Service on a form that can be obtained from any of the Service’s district offices. Local postmasters will give the address of the nearest district office.1
1National Archives and Records Service, The Immigration and Naturalization Service [1983 revised pamphlet], General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.


Women and Naturalization

There may be a reason why you can’t find your female ancestor in immigration records. The above link explains why women may be hard to find in the early records of the U.S.


Types of Naturalization Records

The above link takes you to an explanation of the different types of naturalization records.

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