Tennessee Naturalization and Citizenship

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United States  Gotoarrow.png  Tennessee  Gotoarrow.png  Naturalization and Citizenship

What is naturalization?

Naturalization is the process of a by which a native or citizen of one country becomes a citizen of a different country, thus receiving privileges and responsibilities to the foreign-born residents.

Immigrants to the United States have never been required to apply for citizenship. Of those who applied, many did not complete the process. Evidence that an immigrant completed the process can be found in censuses, court minutes, homestead records, passports, voting registers, and military papers.

For more information regarding United States naturalization, click here.

What records are there?

The naturalization process consists of two records the immigrant must submit: declaration of intention and the petition

Declaration of intention: The immigrant must first declare their intention to be a citizen. This form is unique for each court that grants naturalization until 1906. Thereafter, there are standardized forms. The declaration can be submitted anytime after the immigrant arrives into the country, although often immigrants waited 2 years before applying.

Petition: The petition is the final paper filed with a court and it can be filed in a different court than then the declaration of intention. Starting in 1802, the immigrant had to be a resident for 5 years before he could be a citizen. There was a 3 year wait requirement between the declaration of intention and the petition. In 1824, the wait requirement changed to 2 years.

For more information about naturalization records, click here.

What information is on these records?

Information on the declaration of intention and the petition varied greatly before 1906 because each court required different information. Information may include: port of arrival, date of immigration, country of origin and age of the applicant.

After 1906, these forms were standardized and more information required from the immigrant. Information may include: age, birth date and place, residence, date of application, last foreign address, country of birth/allegiance, occupation, personal description, port and date of arrival, vessel of arrival, marital status, wife and children with birth dates and places, and when and where the declaration was filed.

For more information regarding how to obtain naturalization records, click Naturalization Records here.


In the colonial era, residents of Tennessee could appear before any court of record and declare their allegiance to the Commonwealth of North Carolina. A 1790 federal law allowed immigrants to declare their allegiance to the United States before any U.S. circuit or district court, state supreme court, or a local court of record.

For naturalizations that took place in Davidson County, see:

  • Smith, Mary Sue. Davidson County, Tennessee Naturalization Records, 1803–1906. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler, 1997. (Family History Library book 976.855 P4s.)

If your ancestor lived in or near large cities, or near a city where the U.S. courts convened, you may find naturalization records in the U.S. District Court. For the rural areas of Tennessee, naturalization records were usually kept by the circuit court clerk in each county. Records may be in the circuit court order books, where they may be mixed in with other court proceedings. A few counties kept separate records for naturalization.

Research Guides

The following research guide, prepared by a Certified Genealogist, includes a useful guide for Tennessee naturalizations:

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records of some Tennessee counties. Naturalization records can be found using the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:




Post 1906 Records

Early records contain less information than those created after 1906, when the forms were standardized and the Immigration and Naturalization Service was created. Post-1906 records can be accessed through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS). This agency kept a duplicate of the records created in the court. Details such as birth date and place, physical description, and marital status may be given in the post-1906 records. For records at the USCIS, use their Genealogy Program ($) at www.uscis.gov. (This is a fee service.)