Canada Naturalization and Citizenship
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Naturalization is the process of granting citizenship to foreign-born residents. Naturalization papers are an important source of an immigrant’s place of origin, foreign and "Anglicized" names, residence, and date of arrival. Post-1915 records are more detailed and may include birth dates, birthplaces, and other immigration information about the immigrant and members of his family.
Immigrants to Canada have never been required to apply for citizenship. Some nationalities were more likely to naturalize than others. Until 1947, settlers from Britain were considered citizens of Canada without needing to naturalize. Of those from other countries who applied, some did not complete the requirements for citizenship. Evidence that an immigrant completed citizenship requirements can be found in censuses, court minutes, homestead records, passports, voting registers, and military papers.
Citizenship has been reported in Canadian censuses beginning in 1901, but information on individuals is not available from censuses after 1901. See Canada Census.
Requirements for Naturalization
The requirements and process of naturalization have changed many times. Major laws and circumstances that have affected naturalization requirements are described below.
Before Canada Became a Nation (pre-1867): Naturalization was completed in accordance with the laws of the provinces or with British law. Between 1763 and 1947, non-alien residents of Canada were considered British subjects. Settlers from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales had no need to naturalize in Canada. Naturalization in Canada conferred British subject status on immigrants from other countries, but only for Canada.
Prior to the War of 1812: There was no naturalization process in British North America, although some colonies had laws that required aliens to declare the length of their residence and the nature of their business. Some immigrants had to take loyalty oaths when applying for land grants; copies of early oaths of allegiance and later naturalization papers were sometimes filed with land records. See Canada Land and Property Records.
After the War of 1812: The first naturalization laws for the colonies of British North America were an eventual result of the War of 1812. In New Brunswick, certificates of naturalization date from 1817. In Upper Canada (Ontario) the law did not take effect until 1828. Laws for the other provinces were enacted later, although some documents had been made under British law.
After Confederation (1867): Most naturalization was a federal process, although provinces retained some jurisdiction over immigrants. Since 1867, certificates of naturalization have normally been granted by the office of the Secretary of State for Canada. Petitions for citizenship were received by judicial courts, which forwarded them to the Secretary of State’s office for approval. Certificates of naturalization were returned to the courts, where they were delivered to the applicants after they had taken an oath of citizenship.
In 1947: Canadian citizenship was established separate from British.
A historical survey of earlier laws and policies is in:
Finkelman, J., "Aliens," in the Encyclopedia of Canada. Toronto: University Associates of Canada, 1935. 1:43–53. (Family History Library book 971 A5w.)
For more information about the naturalization process, write Citizenship and Immigration Canada at the address below.
Locating Naturalization Records
Naturalization proceedings were conducted by any executive office or judicial court that had the authority to grant citizenship. Naturalization records may be at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in the courts, or in archives. The individual should have received a certificate when he finally became naturalized.
Citizenship or naturalization records are valuable for non-British immigrants. These records begin with some aliens’ declarations taken in Lower Canada (Quebec) in the 1790s. Records from other eastern provinces date from the early or middle 1800s.
Library and Archives Canada has a searchable naturalization database from 1915-1951.
The Family History Library has many naturalization records of Canadians coming to the United States, but only a few such records for Canada. See the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
[PROVINCE] - NATURALIZATION AND CITIZENSHIP
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - NATURALIZATION AND CITIZENSHIP
The National Archives of Canada in Ottawa has microfilm copies of naturalization papers for Upper Canada (Ontario) dated 1828 to 1850. These are on two rolls of microfilm at the Family History Library:
Upper Canada. Provincial Secretary’s Office. Naturalization Returns, 1828–1850. Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1980. (Family History Library microfilms 1631550–551.) This source contains about 3,000 entries, which include the immigrants’ names, occupations, residences, and dates of naturalization.
An index to the Naturalization Returns, 1828–1850 is:
McKenzie, Donald A. Upper Canada Naturalization Records, 1828–1850. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1991. (Family History Library book 971.3 P42m.)
Records made for Canada by the Department of the Secretary of State between 1854 and 1917 were destroyed. There is still an index with information such as name, residence, and court of certification at:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Public Rights Administration
300 Slater Street
3rd Floor, Section D
Ottawa, ON K1A 1L1
Telephone: 888-242-2100 (in Canada only)
The same office holds records created after 1917. These records are more detailed and include a person’s family name, given name, date and place of birth, date of entry into Canada, and sometimes the spouse’s or children’s names. To obtain naturalization records, a resident or citizen of Canada must submit an Access to Information Request Form, available at Canadian post offices.
Obee published an index of naturalizations mentioned in the Canada Gazette between 1915 and 1951:
- Obee, Dave. Naturalization and Citizenship Indexes in the Canada Gazette, 1915-1951: A Finding Aid. Victoria, British Columbia : Dave Obee, c1999. FHL Book 971 P42o
Naturalization records of Canadians who moved to the United States may be an excellent source for the town or city where your ancestor was born (especially records after 1906). See United States Naturalization and Citizenship. A high percentage of those named in the Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791–1906 are of Canadian origin. Film numbers of the 117 microfilms (Family History Library microfilms 1429671–1429787) are in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under any New England state, such as:
CONNECTICUT - NATURALIZATION AND CITIZENSHIP
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
For more information, see Canada Emigration and Immigration.
Prior to 1862, Canadians, as British subjects, were able to travel to and from the United States without requiring passports. However, Canadians who wanted to travel to Europe had to get a British passport at the Foreign Office in London. Those who were not British subjects by birth could still go to the United States with a certificate of naturalization, which was issued by local Canadian mayors mainly for voting in municipal elections.
Requirements changed during the American Civil War. Authorities in the United States wanted more reliable certification from people living in Canada wanting to enter the U.S. In 1862, a centralized system for issuing passports was introduced.
The Passport Canada website provides an interesting overview of the history of passports and states the following about early Canadian passports:
- “It is difficult to trace the history of Canadian passports in the first few years after Confederation because so few were issued. The financial statements of the Secretary of State in 1878 record an annual passport revenue of $50. Since passports then cost $1 each, we know 50 must have been issued. Over the next few years, annual receipts varied between $35 and $50. In those early years, passports were issued as single-sheet certificates stamped with the official seal. In 1915, Canada switched to the British form of passport, a ten-section single sheet folder printed in English only.” See Passport Canada
The first bilingual Canadian passport was produced in 1926. Read more about the history of passports at the above site.
Library and Archives Canada does hold some passports (RG 25 A5c) and an index of those holdings.
- McGregory, Patricia. "Canada Passports (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Canada_Passports_%28National_Institute%29.