United States Naturalization and Citizenship

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Beginners' Corner[edit | edit source]

For a more complete beginning introduction, see U.S. Naturalization Records Class Handout.

U.S. Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

Major Websites Containing Online Records[edit | edit source]

Website Links Information About the Website
www.uscis.gov About USCIS
www.fold3.com About Fold3
www.Ancestry.com About Ancestry
Online Searchable Naturalization Indexes & Records
Contains links to other online records; About Online Searchable Naturalization Indexes & Records

Naturalization Overview[edit | edit source]

Naturalization is the process of granting citizenship privileges and responsibilities to foreign-born residents. The naturalization process in the United States creates records about the immigrant seeking to become a citizen. These records can contain information about the immigrant but the content varies depending on the time period and from court to court.

Immigrants to the United States have never been required to apply for citizenship. An immigrant could become a citizen anytime after they arrived in the United States as long as they were residents in the United States for the required period of time. Of those who applied, some did not complete the requirements to become a citizen.

Record Content[edit | edit source]

Before 1906[edit | edit source]

Before 1906, the information recorded on naturalization records (declaration of intentions and petitions) differed widely because every court created their own forms and decided what information to ask. Some asked very little, some asked more including birthplace and date of arrival. The declaration of intention may have more or less information than the petition, depending on what court the actions took place. The only way to know what a county asked is to locate both records and never assume one is better than the other.

Before 1906, naturalization records contain:

  • Name of immigrant
  • Residence of immigrant
  • Country of origin or allegiance

Although it is not common, some naturalization records before 1906 may also contain one or more of the following information:

  • Port of arrival
  • Date of arrival
  • Age of immigrant
  • Residence of immigrant
  • Birthplace of immigrant

After 1906[edit | edit source]

In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was created. [1] (Later called, Immigration and Naturalization Services or INS.) The result was standardized forms throughout the country and a copy of the naturalization papers sent to the INS in addition to the court keeping a copy. The declaration of intention and petition contained almost the same information. Additional naturalization records were also kept depending on the time period and these records are only available today at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the INS).

After 1906, naturalization records may contain:

  • Birth date and place of immigrant
  • Marital status
  • Spouse and children
  • Birth dates and places for spouse and children
  • Port of arrival
  • Date of arrival
  • Vessel of arrival
  • Occupation
  • Physical Description
  • Marriage date
  • Age
  • Residence
  • Last Foreign Address
No Parents Listed[edit | edit source]

Declarations of intention and petitions do not contain the name of the immigrant's parents - even after 1906. Starting in 1924, the visa was the first naturalization-related record to give the immigrants' parents names. The visa files are available from 1924 to 1944.

Naturalization Process and Coverage[edit | edit source]

New citizens being sworn in, 1910

Naturalization records began in Colonial times. The requirements and process of naturalization have changed many times over the years. The basic requirements have been residency in the country for a given period of time, good moral character, and an oath of loyalty or allegiance given in a court of record.

Colonial Naturalization (Pre-1790)[edit | edit source]

British immigrants were automatically citizens of the colonies (British Empire). Seven of the original colonies had their own laws for naturalizing foreigners as citizens of the British Empire colony. After the Revolutionary War, the individual states established their own naturalization laws and procedures.

3 Types of Colonial Naturalization

  • Denization--A type of naturalization used to obtain land. You could buy and sell land, but your heirs could not inherit your land. There were limited political privileges associated with denization - you could vote but you could not hold an public office in the government.
  • Oath of Allegiance--This type of naturalization during the colonial period was used to renounce all former country loyalties. This gave the immigrant full privileges.
  • Collective citizenship--This naturalization process was used to naturalize a group of people without any supporting documents being created. Collective naturalization happened when the United States became a country in 1776 and all those living in the country (except Native Americans and African Americans) were collectively and automatically made US citizens.

Naturalization From 1790-1906[2][edit | edit source]

The first naturalization law was enacted in 1790. Over the years, naturalization laws changed numerous times, but generally speaking the process required a declaration of intention and a petition to be filed to become a citizen. The immigrant also had to be a resident in the United States 5 years and a 1 year resident in the the state before becoming a citizen. In 1795, the law stated there was a 3 year residency requirement. In 1798, it was changed to 14 years. However in 1802, the law was changed back to a 5 year residency requirement in the United States and remains a requirement to this day.[3]

The naturalization process is completed in a court of law. The process usually required several steps to complete and various documents related to naturalization may be found in the court records described below.

The typical naturalization process involved three steps:

  1. Declaration of Intention. The immigrant filed a declaration of intention (also called first papers) to renounce allegiance to foreign governments and to later prove he or she had resided in the country long enough to apply for citizenship. However, generally speaking, an immigrant filed a declaration of intention up to two years after he immigrated to the United States. The immigrant could declare any time after he arrived after fulfilling the residency requirement. Some immigrants waited as late as 20 years after coming to the United States to begin the process to become a citizen. There are some exceptions to the naturalization process where the immigrant was not required to file a declaration.
  2. Petition. The immigrant had to wait anywhere between two to three years after he filed his declaration to file his petition for citizenship (also called second or final papers). Most often the petition was filed in a court nearest to the town where the immigrant settled. An Oath of Allegiance was also signed to pledge the immigrants allegiance to the United States and sign a written oath.
  3. Certificate. After all requirements were completed, the immigrant was sworn in as a citizen and issued his or her certificate. The certificate is given from the same court the petition is filed in. It is called the Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization.
Report and Registry, 1798-1828[edit | edit source]

From 1798 to 1828, a new immigrant was required to appear before a local court and register his arrival in the United States. This was usually recorded in the court minutes. Sometimes a separate document, a report and registry or aliens' register, was created instead. The immigrant could obtain a certificate showing that he had registered in order to prove his residency later when he applied for citizenship. The Report and Registry could take place at a different time and different court than the immigrant's declaration as a declaration was still required.

The Report and Registry may include the following information depending on the court recording the information:

  • Name of immigrant
  • Birthplace
  • Age
  • Nation of allegiance
  • County of migration
  • Place of intended settlement
  • Occupation

Naturalization After 1906[edit | edit source]

When the INS was created in 1906, other naturalization records were created during the process of naturalization to keep track of immigrants in the United States. Copies of these documents are only in the possession of the former INS, now United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A summary of some of these documents are listed below:

  • Certificate of Arrival, 1906 to the present: After 1906 an immigrant was required to submit a certificate of arrival when he petitioned for citizenship in order to prove the length of his residency. This document gives the place of entry, manner of arrival, and date of arrival. This was kept in the file with the petition.
  • Certificate of Registry: A certificate created by the INS to document immigrants who arrived prior to July 1, 1924 to the United States where no original arrival record could be located.
  • Visa and Application: Began with the Immigration Act of 1924. All aliens had to have a Visa to enter the United States. Visas were obtained at US Embassies and Consulates abroad. Visa Files contain birth information, parents, children, previous residence and a photograph beginning in 1929.
  • Alien Registration: The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required every non-citizen of the United States, age 14 years and up, to register and fill out the Alien Registration form. The Alien Registration Program created a specific form, AR-2, that were used from 1 Aug 1940 to 31 Mar 1944 during World War II. All original alien registration forms were microfilmed and are at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The originals were destroyed after filming.
An alien registration form contains the following information:
  • Name
  • Name at time of entry to the US
  • Other names used
  • Address
  • Date of Birth
  • Citizenship/Nationality
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Race
  • Height and Weight
  • Hair and Eye Color
  • Port, date, ship, and class of admission at last arrival in US
  • Date of first arrival in US
  • Years lived in US
  • Intended stay in US
  • Usual occupation
  • Present occupation
  • Present employer, including address
  • Club, organization, or society memberships
  • Military service (Country, branch, dates)
  • Date and number of Declaration of Intention (if filed), and city and State where filed
  • Date of Petition for Naturalization (if filed), and city and State where filed
  • Arrest history
  • Fingerprint
  • Signature
  • Date and place of registration[4]

Naturalization Records by State[edit | edit source]

Locating Records by Time Period[edit | edit source]

Colonial Records (Pre-1790)[edit | edit source]

Naturalization records before 1790 differ vastly from later naturalization records.  Colonial naturalizations consist mostly of lists of those that took the oath of allegiance. The colony where the immigrant was living had jurisdiction over naturalizations.

Two good sources to begin searching for colonial naturalization records are

  • Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s- 1900s.  This source has indexed published passenger lists as well as early published naturalization records.  Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s- 1900s identifies the original sources where the information came from. FHL 973 W32p, numerous supplements; Online at: Ancestry.com - ($), Supplements published after 2012 are not included.
  • Bockstruck, Lloyd deWitt. Denizations and Naturalizations in the British Colonies in America, 1607-1775. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2005. FHL Book 970 P4b.

Records Between 1790 and 1906[edit | edit source]

An immigrant may have completed naturalization proceedings through any of 5,000 federal, state, or local courts that had the authority to grant citizenship. Naturalization proceedings could happen in county, superior or common pleas courts, or in state and U.S. circuit and district courts. Although, numerous courts could naturalize, including municipal, police, criminal, chancery, probate, surrogate and marine. You need to search the records of all of the courts covering an area to make sure you have exhausted your search.

You may need to search the records of each place where your immigrant ancestor lived to locate both naturalization records. He may have filed the declaration of intention in one court in one state and filed the petition several years later in another court and state. Making a timeline of your ancestor to see where they lived helps in narrowing your search. Search first the place the immigrant first lived in the US. Then search the place they were living five years later for the petition.

Records Since 1906[edit | edit source]

Beginning in September 1906, the federal government began regulating the naturalization process. The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS) required specific forms for declarations and petitions. Only these forms could be used and the Bureau controlled the number of courts able to naturalize by controlling distribution of the forms. However, both state and federal courts were allowed to naturalize.

The Declaration of Intent (Form 2202) was completed in triplicate. The court kept the original and gave copies to the applicant and the Bureau. The applicant was to use the declaration to apply for the petition. If the declaration is still in possession of the family, the immigrant probably did not complete the process and was not a citizen. The Petition for Naturalization (Form 2204) was kept by the court and a duplicate was sent to the INS. The Certificate of Naturalization (Form 2207) was given to the new citizen and a stub of the Certificate was kept in the court to prove it was issued. A duplicate of the petition was sent to the INS.

In 1929, the INS changed the forms and required photographs of the applicants. Because the new forms were not distributed immediately, many state courts ceased naturalizing. However, naturalizations were still taking place in local county courts as well as federal courts after 1929, and the records of any court still naturalizing should be consulted to locate your ancestor's records.

Finding Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

Immigrants could naturalize in any court that performed naturalizations. That included city, county, state and federal courts. After 1906, federal courts naturalized many immigrants, however, other local courts continued to naturalize as late as 1985. Check all possible courts in the area your ancestor lived.

Begin by looking for naturalization records in the courts of the county or city where the immigrant lived. Look first for the petition (second papers), because they are usually easier to find in courts near where the immigrant eventually settled. After 1906, the declaration can be filed with the petition as the immigrant was required to submit a copy when he submitted the petition.

Because immigrants were allowed to naturalize in any court, they often selected the most convenient court. If they lived in New Jersey but worked in New York City, also check the courts of New York City for the naturalization records. If an immigrant lived on the border of a county, they may have naturalized in the adjacent county because the courthouse may have been closer.

Locating the Correct District Court[edit | edit source]

One federal court that may contain your ancestor's naturalization records is the District Court. However, to search the these records you must first determine the correct district court. Click on United States District Court Jurisdictions to help you identify the correct District Court. You must know the county your ancestor resided in.

Online Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

There are many online resources available for researching naturalization records. These online resources include naturalization indexes as well as digital images of naturalization records.

  • Online Searchable Naturalization Indexes and Records--This website contains links to naturalization indexes and records. It is arranged by state and gives the statewide indexes and records first. It then gives the countywide indexes and records. This website is updated regularly and is a great source to begin searching for naturalization records on the Internet.
  • FamilySearch Historical Records--Free website containing indexes and images of naturalization records. New databases are added monthly. Search by state.
  • Fold3.com--This website has a partnership with the National Archives to bring digital images of some of the National Archives collections online. Part of the website is free, other images are only available through a subscription. Free access is given to the website at the National Archives, at National Archives regional branches, and at Family History Centers that have Internet access. To locate naturalization databases on fold3.com, choose the "browse all" link. Under the category list, click on Naturalizations 1700s - Mid 1900s. At the bottom of the screen, use the "search within" box to type in a name. There is also an "advanced search" option that helps narrow down common names when more information is known about the ancestor.
  • Ancestry.com--This is a subscription website. Most of Ancestry's naturalization records are found under the heading Immigration and Emigration. You can access these records by the following methods:
1) Ancestry Database Card Catalog--type the word naturalization in the Database Title Box. This will give you a listing of naturalization records.
2) Immigration & Emigration--click on the Search tab at the top of the page, then scroll down to Immigration & Emigration and click on that link. Search by first and last name. Note that the search results include naturalization and many other immigration records.

At the Family History Library[edit | edit source]

Naturalization records at the library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under one of the following:


The library has also acquired large collections of naturalization records from the National Archives branches in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.

In some states, naturalization records are included in other court records and are not separately identified. Search the Wiki for the name of the state and the word "naturalization" to help you locate these records.

A key reference book is:

  • Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records in the United States. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997. (FHL book 973 P4s.) It identifies records at both the National Archives and the Family History Library. It also describes many state and county courthouse collections. This book was published in 1997 and has not been updated. The Family History Library has added naturalization records to their collection since the publication.

At Regional Archives[edit | edit source]

The clerk of the court where the immigrant was naturalized may still have the original records. Some copies of court naturalization records have been transferred to National Archives regional branches. Check these Regional Branches for Federal Court Records as they charge less than the USCIS.

National Archive regional branches have websites that often state which naturalization records they have available. To locate the regional branch covering the location of the court where the naturalization document was filed, click here.

USCIS Internet Site[edit | edit source]

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has instituted the Genealogy Program for public access to immigrant records from 1906 to 1956 created by this agency, formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Before making a request, review Genealogy FAQ and Genealogy Common Errors sections.

The following records can be requested online or by mail:

When ordering by mail, use forms G-1041 (for an index search) and G-1041a (for obtaining the record). Do not submit a request for records until you have completed an index search.

When ordering on-line, begin with a valid file number. Then make a request on-line.

Once the form is filled out, include a money order or cashier's check. Cash or a personal check will not be accepted. There are no refunds for incorrect file numbers submitted or for negative results. The mailing address and fee schedule are on the forms.

Determining if your Ancestor Naturalized[edit | edit source]

Before you search for your ancestor’s naturalization records, you should have an idea of when they immigrated to the United States.

Evidence that an immigrant became a citizen can be found in censuses, court minutes, homestead records, passports, voting registers, and military papers. Even if an immigrant ancestor did not complete the process and become a citizen, he may have begun the process and filed a declaration of intention

If your immigrant lived until after 1900, you should locate them on as many censuses as you can.

Census Records – 1900 to 1930

The 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 Censuses each ask the year an immigrant arrived to the United States. It also asks if the individual was naturalized or not. The codes for naturalization are as follows:

PA: The individual began the naturalized process and has submitted a declaration of intention.
NA: The individual has completed the naturalization process and is a US Citizen.
AL: The immigrant had not yet naturalized or even begun the process. Not every immigrant naturalized.
NR: The census taker did not report the citizenship information.

1920 Census

The 1920 Census also asks the year the individual naturalized. The 1920 Census is the only year this question is asked.

Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship:

It is helpful to know if your ancestor naturalized. Documents found in your family’s possession may indicate if your ancestor naturalized. One document you may find in your family's possession is a Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship. This document indicates that your ancestor completed the process, and was a naturalized citizen of the United States. The certificate also states the court where the petition was filed. This helps locate a copy of the petition, which can contain more information about the immigrant.


If your ancestor had a United States passport, your ancestor completed the naturalization process and was a US Citizen. Passports were only given to U.S. citizens. They were and was not required for travel outside of the United States during times of war. Often newly naturalized citizens would obtain passports to keep them from being drafted in their native country's military. For more information about United States Passports, click here.

Tips for Success[edit | edit source]

For success in finding naturalization records and obtaining the information desired, remember that there are limitations in naturalization records, exceptions to the naturalization process and search strategies that should be used such as checking spelling variations.

Limitations[edit | edit source]

Town of Origin

Most researchers hope to find the town of origin in naturalization records. This information usually is listed in naturalization records after 1906 when the forms were standardized. Before 1906, often the country of origin is only listed and the town not normally given. However, because each court recorded different information prior to 1906, it is important to search the earlier naturalization records.

Court Records

Prior to 1906, each court created their own naturalization forms. Each form was different, so information recorded on the form differed. You may find substantial information in one court (date and place of immigration, age of applicant, place of birth) and very little information (name of applicant, country of origin) in another court.  Thus, it is important to always obtain the naturalization records of an immigrant even if they naturalized before 1906.

Names of Parents

Names of parents are not regularly found associated with naturalization records.  Late 19th and 20th century passenger list immigration records may reveal the name of a parent if they are shown as the closest relative left behind in the old country or the person to whom the immigrant was destined.  Immigrants admitted from July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944 will have their parent's names shown in their Visa file.  Copies of visa files can only be obtained from the USCIS. Immigrants who arrived prior to 1924 but who underwent Registry proceedings between 1929 and 1944 usually name their parents in their Registry File, also available from USCIS.  Only if the immigrant naturalized after March 31, 1944, will the Visa File or Registry File be found in the USCIS naturalization Certificate File.

Exceptions to the Process[edit | edit source]

There are exceptions to the naturalization process that can determine whether you find a declaration of intention and a petition for your ancestor, or not.

Children[edit | edit source]

Immigrant children, even today, receive their citizenship from their parents. Starting in 1790, children received derivative citizenship from their father (or mother in some cases). Derivative citizenship is defined as obtaining one's citizenship from or through another person. When the child's father became naturalized, his children under 16 (or 18, depending on the year) automatically became citizens. No paperwork was created at that time. From 1790 to 1929, to prove his or her citizenship, the child would need his or her father's certificate of naturalization.

Under the Act of March 2, 1929, individuals who derived citizenship through a parent's naturalization could apply for and receive a Certificate of Citizenship in their own name. Applicants age 21 or older applied to the Bureau of Naturalization, later the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now USCIS), and that agency issues such certificates without any involvement of the courts. For this reason records of certificates of derivative citizenship are available only from USCIS. Many immigrants who derived citizenship in the 1870's, 1880's, or 1890's later applied for derivative certificates in the 1930's and 1940's. Certificates of Citizenship issued between 1929 and 1956 are among the USCIS Certificate Files (C-Files), while those issued after 1956 are among the USCIS Alien Files (A-Files).

The Act of May 26, 1824 allowed immigrants who arrived before their 18th birthday to, upon reaching age 21, petition for naturalization without filing a prior declaration of intention.  Petitions filed under this provision are usually called "Minor Naturalizations" because they relate to individuals who arrived as a minor (but who were an adult, age 21 or older, when actually naturalized).  They are also examples of "one paper naturalizations" because no declaration was required.  Many courts combined the declaration and petition documents into a form for this document which may or may not include the word "minor" in the title. Regular forms will cite the 1824 Act.  The minor naturalization provision was often abused and was repealed in 1906.[5]

Women[edit | edit source]

In 1855, derivative citizenship (obtaining one's citizenship from another person) was also available for immigrant women marrying U.S citizens, or if their husbands obtained their citizenship during their marriage. The wife's proof that she was a U.S. citizen was her husband's certificate of citizenship (or certificate of naturalization) and her marriage certificate.

In 1922, citizenship was no longer available to women through marriage. However, from 1907 to 1922, a woman could lose her U.S. citizenship if she married an alien, even if she was born in the United States. For more information, read Marian L. Smith's article, Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940.

Military[edit | edit source]

To serve in the United States military, one did not need to be a United States citizen - even today.The United States Government passed some naturalization laws to help encourage new immigrants to serve in the military in their new homeland. These laws made becoming a naturalized citizen easier for the immigrant in military service. The following are the laws concerning service in the military:

Army--Beginning in 1862, the Declaration was waived, and the residency requirement was reduced to one year, for a soldier with an honorable discharge.
Navy Marines--Beginning in 1894, with an honorable discharge, the Declaration was waived and the residency requirement was reduced to one year.
World War I--In 1918, during WWI, the residency requirement was waived and the Declaration was also waived. Soldiers were naturalized at military posts.

Collective Naturalization[edit | edit source]


In some instances, entire groups have been collectively granted U.S. citizenship. Collective naturalization is defined as a group of people all receiving their citizenship through an act of congress or treaty. In these cases you will not find individual naturalization papers.

Collective naturalization occurred for residents of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Texas in 1845, and Hawaii in 1898.

In 1868, African-Americans were made citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Unites States Constitution.

In 1924, Native Americans were finally made citizens, although some chiefs of tribes became citizens before this date. The Native Americans were not included in the Fourteenth Amendment because they were considered a separate nation.

In 1924 Indian Citizenship Act was passed, approximately two-thirds of the Indians of the United States had become citizens either through treaty agreements, by special statutes naturalizing named tribes or individuals, by general statutes naturalizing Indians who acquired land allotments, or by statutes naturalizing special groups (such as Indian women who had married non-Indian men).

The Act of 2 June 1924, extended full citizenship privileges to the Indians by proclaiming:

"...all non-citizens Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they hereby are, declared to be citizens of the the United States: Provided, that the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property."

Variant spellings[edit | edit source]

Search all spellings of the surname. Think about how the surname was pronounced, and how it sounded in your ancestor's probable accent. The surname may be spelled differently in earlier records that were closer to your ancestor's immigration date.

Other Naturalization Topics[edit | edit source]

Naturalization Laws[edit | edit source]

There are over 150 U.S. naturalization laws that have been enacted since 1790. These laws change the residency requirements and other stipulations for naturalizing. ; A summary of some of the major naturalization acts passed by congress can be found here.

Naturalization Terms[edit | edit source]

There are many terms and acronyms used when discussing naturalization records. A list of them can be found here.

Other Resources[edit | edit source]

The Naturalization Process and Current Trends in Immigration in the United States: By Gender, By Age and By Marital Status

INS Citizenship Process

A Guide to USCIS and the Process for Citizenship

The U.S. Naturalization Test

FamilySearch Historical Records Collections[edit | edit source]

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:

Related FamilySearch Blog Articles[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States (Baltimore, MD: Christina K. Schaefer, 1997).
  2. Newman, John J. American Naturalization Records 1790-1990. (Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1998).
  3. US Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Citizenship Through Naturalization," https://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-through-naturalization, accessed Sept 9, 2019.
  4. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, :Alien Registration Forms on Microfilm, 1940-1944
  5. Newman, John J. American Naturalization Records 1790-1990. (Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1998).
  6. Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000)