On March 28, 2003 over 7500 immigrants took the Oath of Citizenship in Los Angeles becoming United States citizens. The oath ceremony was the completion of the naturalization process for these immigrants. Naturalization is the legal process taken by an alien to become a citizen. This legal process produces records which can be important to genealogical research. The recent immigrants in Los Angeles went through a series of events similar to what some of our ancestors did many years ago.
This process creates naturalization records which can be accessed and studied. The content of naturalization records will vary depending on the time and place but generally naturalization was a two-step process taking a minimum of five years. Naturalization Process
Until 1952, the first step in the naturalization process was the Declaration of Intent (DI) or “first papers.” As the title suggests this step recorded the aliens intent to become a citizen. These records were often filed soon after arrival in the U.S. The record will sometimes give the date and place of arrival in the U.S. In the case of my great uncle, Joseph Huck, who filed his intention in Hamilton County Ohio Probate Court, he states that he arrived on December 3, 1879 in New York. This allowed me to then find the Passenger List for Joseph and his family.
The second step was the Petition for Citizenship (PC) frequently referred to as “second papers” or “final papers.” The requirements for filing “second papers” were 1) the alien had to have filed a Declaration of Intent and 2) he had to meet residency requirements, usually five years. When the Petition for Citizenship was granted, a Certificate of Naturalization was issued and recorded.
The first step in searching for naturalization records is do a complete census search on the ancestor. Information in the immigration and naturalization columns on the 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records can give important clues. The abbreviations in the census columns for naturalization are AL (alien), PA (first papers filed), and NA (naturalized citizen). Remember that not all immigrants choose to be naturalized; some filed only the DI. Statistics from the 1890 thru 1930 census show that 25% of immigrants were not naturalized or had not filed a DI.
It was unusual for a woman to be naturalized prior to 1922. Before 1922, woman and children became citizens with the naturalization of the husband or father. Wives and children usually do not appear on the man’s naturalization record before 1906.
Homestead records can also help in the search for naturalization records. An immigrant had to file at least his DI before applying for Homestead land. The Homestead files describe when and where the DI was filed and will often include a copy of either the DI or the PC.
The first naturalization law was passed by Congress in 1790. From 1790 until 1906, aliens could become naturalized in any court of record. The two records, Declaration of Intent and Petition for Citizenship, did not have to be filed in the same court. Sometimes the DI was filed in the port of entry city immediately after they arrived in the U.S. This can make it very difficult to find the records. Check the courts where your ancestor lived first. The county records may still be housed at the courthouse or may have been transferred to the state archives. U.S. District Court records can be found at the National Archives regional branch for the area. Millions of naturalization records have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library.
On September 27, 1906, naturalization records were centralized under the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Washington, DC. After that date, the naturalization could take place in any court, but the clerk of the court was required to send a copy to the INS. These records can be requested under the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act using form G-639 which can be downloaded from the Web site at http://www.bcis.gov/graphics/aboutus/foia/request.htm
For more information on researching and locating Naturalization records consult the following books:
Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1997, by Christine Schaefer.
They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins, Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998, by Loretto Szucs.