United Kingdom Naturalization and Citizenship

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Naturalization[edit | edit source]

Aliens could become naturalized British subjects only by Act of Parliament before 1844, and after this by a certificate from the Home Secretary. This allowed them all the privileges of someone born in Britain but was costly and time-consuming so usually only achieved by those higher up the social and business scale. Others chose to get denization, but the vast majority did not bother taking out papers at all because they couldn’t afford to. Upon marriage to an Englishwoman their children born in Britain automatically acquired British nationality. Naturalization papers can be most informative, giving:

  • Exact places of birth.
  • Dates and places of marriage.
  • Spouse’s name and birth details.
  • Length of time in Britain.
  • Details of guarantors.
  • Number of children, but usually not their names.

The original naturalization records are in PRO series HO 1, 2, 3 and 5. Chancery documents in C 65-67, and C 54 also contain many Acts of Naturalization from the 15th century until 1873. Most of these classes have indexes, for example FHL film 0824514-5 and FHL film 0917035 contain indexes to naturalizations in the Patent Rolls in C 66 from 1801-1924, see example in chart below.

For more information see How to look for records of Naturalisation and British citizenship or How to Look for Records of Naturalised Britons

Chart: Index to Certificates of Naturalization 1801-1900
FHL film 0917035

A 7-column chart giving Name, Country, Date of Certificate, Place of Residence, Number of Certificate, Number of Home Office Paper, Remarks
BUHL, Christian Friedrich
BURNBLUM, James, Constantinople, 16 Jan 1847, (no residence), 522, (no H.O. paper or remarks)
BURROUGHS, Silas Maineville, United States of America, 10 May 1890, Dartford, A 6391, B7130
BUSCH, Edmund Hermann, Germany, 28 Feb 1884, Cheltenham, A 4062, A 34440
BUSCH, Otto, Hanover, 28 Feb 1866, (no residence), 4975, (no H.O. paper or remarks)

The full transcripts have been published for those up to 1800. If an ancestor took British nationality more than 100 years ago the original Papers can be obtained from the PRO using the detailed instructions in Kershall and Pearsall (Immigrants and Aliens. A Guide to Sources on UK immigration and citizenship. PRO Publications., 2000).

Original records are subject to the 100-year closure rule, but there are indexes at the PRO up to 1935 and if a name is found in these then the relevant edition of the London Gazette where the event should be listed can be consulted.

Until 1844 British naturalization required an Act of Parliament, which limited naturalization to the wealthy. These records are in the patent rolls. From 1844 to 1878, the secretary of state’s acts of "making aliens English" are recorded in the Chancery Court records.

Acts of Parliament were published in the The London Gazette

The original records are at the Public Record Office and Libraries  except for the "oaths of denization" which are part of the quarter session court records.

The Family History Library filmed the Public Record Office’s records of denization from 1835 to 1924 (film 824515) and the index (film 824514 item 3). Indexed lists of naturalizations and denizations from 1509 to 1835 are in:

  • Shaw, William. Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England. Lymington, England: Huguenot Society of London, 1893–1932. (Family History Library book 942.1/L1 B4h vols. 8, 18, 27, and 35; films 824513 items 1–2 and 824514 item 1.)

The Kew Lists contain an index to all letters and acts of naturalization (including denied petitions) between 1509 and 1935, except quarter session "oaths of denization". Only the Middlesex (outer London) quarter session "oath rolls" are included in the index. The Public Record Office number is "HO 1/INDEX" which is contained on fiche numbers 1882 to 1938 in the Kew List.

Records of denization or naturalization at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Denization[edit | edit source]

This is the considerably easier process of granting to an alien by letters patent some of the privileges of naturalization, for example allowing the buying and devising (bequeathing in a will) of land, which aliens could not do. However, a denizen could not inherit land, nor could any of his children born before denization. Neither could he hold any office of trust or receive grants of land from the crown. The original records are at the PRO from about 1400 to 1844 in series C 66 and 67. The indexes to the records of these two processes have been published by the Huguenot Society (Page, and Shaw) and are on microfilm:

  • Volume 8 covering 1509-1603 and volume 18 covering 1603-1700 on FHL film 0824513.
  • Volume 27 covering 1701-1800, and volume 35 which is a supplement to volumes 18 and 27, on FHL film 0824514.

The index gives the:

  • Name.
  • Country they came from.
  • Date of certificate.
  • Place of residence in British Isles.
  • Number of certificate.
  • PRO reference number to the Home Office Paper.
  • Any remarks.

Chart 15: Index to Denizations 1801-1873 — FHL film 0917035

A 5-column chart giving Name, Place of origin, Rights conferred, Date of Letters Patent, and Home Office number
BUISSON, Charles, France, To be a free Denizen and he and his heirs to have all rights, etc., to free Denizens belonging, 11 Oct 1826, (no #)
CANSTATT, Jacob, Manheim (sic), To be a free Denizen and to have all rights, etc., to free Denizens belonging, 14 Jul 1801, (no #)
CANTER, James, Denmark, To be a free Denizen and liege subject, 30 Dec 1841, O.S. 8942
CAPRON, Henry Joseph Achilles, Flanders, He and his heirs to be liege subjects, 23 May 1842, O.S. 8943.

The extensive publications of the Huguenot Society of London concern mainly the 16th—early 18th century and are not solely about Huguenots but include many aliens. Various papers connected with the immigration of foreigners, often as refugees from religious persecution, still survive at the PRO, for example:

  • Aliens Entry Books 1794-1921 (HO 5).
  • Certificates of Aliens from 1836-1852 (HO 2).
  • Returns and papers 1836-1869 (HO 3).
  • Aliens Act Entry Books 1905-1921 (HO 162).[1]

Most foreign immigrants settling in Britain did not go through the legal formalities and do not appear in naturalization records. From 1708 to 1711, standards relaxed and allowed ‘oaths of denization’ to be taken at quarter session courts. Here the immigrant took an oath of allegiance and agreed to attend the sacrament of a Protestant church (except for the Society of Friends or Jewish services). Quarter session court records contain denization records from this time period.

Record content varies greatly by court and by time period. Some records give only names, but others give birthplace or place of origin, length of residence in Britain, occupation, employees, age, parish of residence, and wife’s name.

Citizenship in Cities and Boroughs[edit | edit source]

Boroughs (towns or cities possessing special privileges conferred by royal charter) granted privileges similar to naturalization by admitting a man to the "freedom of the city". He was then referred to as a "freeman".

Burgess (Freemen) Rolls[edit | edit source]

Most cities and corporate towns had been governed since the Middle Ages by a body of men called freemen or burgesses. They had been given the freedom of the city or borough and this gave them certain rights and privileges. The most important were the two exclusive rights of:

  • Practicing their trade there. This exclusive right was abolished in 1835 except in London where it lasted until 1856.
  • Voting for municipal councillors (exclusivity abolished 1867) and MPs (in 1832 all £10 householders in cities and boroughs got the vote whether or not they were freemen).

Other rights were granted specific to the particular charter and customs of the town.

The City of London is unique; since mediaeval times it has been governed by the Corporation of the City of London which included:

  • The Lord Mayor. Elected from amongst the aldermen by Common Hall.
  • The 26 aldermen, one for each City ward, elected for life by the freemen, and of whom one served as Lord Mayor each year.
  • The Common Council consisted of about 230 representatives elected by the freemen in each City ward. The Common Council elected or nominated City officials such as the City Chamberlain, and had extensive legislative and financial powers.
  • Common Hall was originally an assembly of all the freemen but in 1475 was restricted to the senior freemen, called liverymen, of each City livery company. There were about 4,000 of them in 1625 rising to double that number by the 18th century. The liverymen elected the City’s MPs until 1867, and still elect the Lord Mayor from amongst the aldermen.
  • The Freemen who elected the aldermen and the Common Council.

The City of London freedom records are of interest to all family historians as so many people who lived elsewhere, and who were not professionals or craftsmen, (for example mariners, street hawkers, shopkeepers, labourers), gained their freedom here. Few City of London freemen actually lived in the City’s one square mile but mostly in what is now called Greater London and the Home Counties, and indeed anywhere in England.

Obviously registers (or rolls) of freemen were kept by both the trade guild (livery company) and the city or borough, which are dealt with here. With respect to the parliamentary and municipal franchise we are therefore concerned with the freemen of a city or town, not with freemen of a company. Many towns and cities have surviving lists if their freemen, and those for Exeter, King’s Lynn, Norwich, York and perhaps others have been published.

The City of London freedom records are held by the CLRO (Corporation of London Record Office) formerly at Guildhall and now at London Metropolitan Archives where they are now open to the public (see Aldous The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999), Harvey (A Guide to Genealogical Sources in Guildhall Library. , 1998), and the Corporation’s website. They are not duplicates of company records, but often contain more information, and about different people. About 500,000 men are included from 1681 to 1940, with a few earlier as well. There are six main types of records, the surviving dates reflecting the devastations of the Great Fire (1666) and the Guildhall Fire 1785:

  • Freedom Order Papers 1681-1682, 1688-1775, and 1784-date. These may be by servitude (apprenticeship), redemption (payment), or patrimony (father was in this company)
  • Freedom Minute Books or Declaration Books.
  • Apprenticeship Enrolments and Indentures.
  • Freedom Enrolment Books
  • Wardmote Inquest Returns.
  • Complaints Books.

Information that can be found (but not all for everyone) amongst these records includes:

  • Name
  • Age and place of birth (or whether or not in the City of London), and from 1916 the exact date and place of birth.
  • Father’s name, residence, trade and livery company, and exact date of City of London freedom.
  • Date of admission to freedom of city.
  • Apprenticeship indenture which gives master’s name, trade and livery company, consideration money, dates of binding and completion of apprenticeship.
  • Summonses made against those found trading in the City of London without having taken out their freedoms, including name, address, trade and comments.
  • Complaints of masters against apprentices, and vice versa.[2]

The Family History Library has a few freemen records. These are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Bristol's burgess books have been indexed and transcribed from 1557 to 1995: FHL CD-ROM no. 4215.

Many freeman lists are filmed for example:

  • In the FamilySearch Catalog under ENGLAND - KENT - MAIDSTONE - VOTING REGISTERS The Freeman Lists for Maidstone 1551-1842 can be found on FHL films 1656613-4.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Christensen, Penelope. "England Naturalization, Denization, Maps, Local Histories, and Theses that Include Nonconformists (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Naturalization,_Denization,_Maps,_Local_Histories,_and_Theses_that_Include_Nonconformists_%28National_Institute%29.
  2. Aldous (The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999) and Medlycott (The City of London Freedom Registers. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 19 #2, page 45-47, 1977) give more details, and Aldous’ 2003 article (Records of King’s Freemen in the City of London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 27 #9, page 415-421) describes another group called King’s Freemen who were discharged soldiers and sailors.
  3. Christensen, Penelope. "England Freeholders Lists, Jury Lists, Burgess Rolls, Freemen Rolls (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Freeholders_Lists,_Jury_Lists,_Burgess_Rolls,_Freemen_Rolls_%28National_Institute%29.