Unlock Your Ancestor’s Story with Naturalization Records


Your ancestors’ naturalization records may hold the key to unlocking their life stories. These records likely hold clues that could lead you back to their hometown and even introduce you to more ancestors.

What Are Naturalization Records?

Naturalization records are the paperwork a person fills out to become a citizen of an adopted country. In most cases, naturalization records in the United States consist of three distinct sections or forms:

a petition for naturalization.

  • The first is a declaration of intent, in which a person declares his or her desire to become a citizen.
  • The second is a petition for naturalization, in which the person reports that all requirements to become a citizen have been met.
  • The third and final form is the actual certificate of citizenship.

The information you will find in an ancestor’s naturalization records depends on when the ancestor sought to become a citizen of the United States.

Naturalization Records from 1906 and Earlier

Before 1906, each state provided its own version of the necessary paperwork, with different information to include.

Generally speaking, you can count on finding your ancestor’s name, a renunciation of allegiance to his or her home country, and the date on which the document was created. You might also discover a physical description of your ancestor and his or her occupation.  

Speaking of “her”—prior to women’s suffrage, a married woman gained few benefits from becoming a United States citizen, and, in some cases, women were discouraged from even trying. Consequently, you will find more naturalization records for men before 1906 than you will for women.

Naturalization Records Post-1906

Beginning in 1907, the federal government took more control of the naturalization process. The forms became standardized and included more detail, such as the following:

  • Date and place of birth, including city or town
  • Names spouse and children
  • Date of arrival in the United States
  • Port of entry in the United States
  • Name of the ship in which the person traveled

In addition, you may find the name of the nearest relative outside of the United States—a huge find for your family tree!

an immigrant man
an immigrant woman

Where to Find Naturalization Records

As you can see, an ancestor’s naturalization records can quickly link you to the ancestor’s life before he or she came to the United States. This information could lead you to another one of your ancestral homelands and dozens, if not hundreds, of more ancestors.

But where do you go to find these records? The FamilySearch wiki provides an amazing list of naturalization databases and collections. You can also order images of your ancestor’s naturalization records from the United States government, assuming the ancestor was naturalized after 1906.

Before 1906, immigrants worked with local courts to become citizens. Some of these naturalization records have been donated to the National Archives. If so, you may be able to order them as well.

A census record showing naturalization

Next Steps

Perhaps you’re wondering if your ancestor ever became a naturalized citizen. United States census records can help you find out. A census names everyone in a given household; it may also specify if a person is a citizen or not.

If you can find a census record that lists your ancestor as foreign born and a second census record that lists the same ancestor as a citizen, then you know he or she was naturalized during the intervening time.

Naturalization records are a fascinating historical artifact that connects you to your ancestor. You never know for sure what they’ll contain, but it’s bound to be something surprising—something that helps you understand your family’s story a little better.

And that, for sure, is worth the effort.

To continue learning about naturalization records, see the FamilySearch wiki articles Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records and United States Naturalization and Citizenship.

The subject of this article and some of its material was taken from Kory Meyerink’s class, “Naturalization Records: Key to Your Immigrant's Home ,” at the 2019 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.

The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held annually and offers classes for genealogists and others wanting to learn about their ancestors. Keep an eye on the BYU conference page for announcements about next year’s schedule and when registration opens.

Read More from 2019 BYU Genealogy Conference Archives

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