U.S. Naturalization Records
Naturalization is the process by which an individual from a foreign country becomes a United States citizen. Most of those who were naturalized between 1790 and 1952 had to file the following documents:
- Declaration of Intention (usually 1–2 years after arrival)
- Petition for naturalization (2–3 years after the Declaration)
These documents may have been recorded in any federal, state, county, town or city court. Search all courts in the area where your ancestor lived for naturalization records. Most naturalizations that occurred between 1906 and 1991 were handled by the federal District and Circuit Courts.
To search for naturalization records, you need to know your ancestor’s:
Places of residence
Approximate year of arrival
If you do not know the year of arrival or immigration, search the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, or 1940 census which gives immigration information. The 1920 census states the year of naturalization. Searching earlier census records might help you determine when your ancestor arrived in the United States.
The declaration of intention and petition did not have to be filed in the same court, or even in the same state. The declaration could be filed in one county or state, and the petition in another. Check the town or city, county, state, and federal courts for each place your ancestor lived.
Naturalizations before 1906
Naturalization records before 1906 usually contain less information and may show only the date of naturalization and country of origin.
Naturalizations after 1906
Naturalization records after 1906 may list the immigrant’s name, age, date and place of birth, date and port of arrival, name of the vessel, and names of family members. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created in 1906. Forms were standardized and duplicate records were sent by the court to the INS (later changed to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). As a result, more information is included in later records.
Finding the Records
If there is a name index, online or in the catalog, search this first. If there is no name index, searching these records could be very time consuming. Indexes vary, but you may find the date, name of the court, and the volume, page, docket, case, or certificate number.
Many naturalization records and indexes are now online. Search Online Searchable Naturalization Indexes and Records at German Roots.com to determine if your state or county has an index or records online. You can also search subscription websites for a fee at Fold3 or Ancestry.com. These subscription websites are available free at the Family History Library.
FamilySearch.org, a free internet site, should also be searched to find naturalization information online. When searching for naturalization records use the FamilySearch Catalog and beginn in the county where the naturalization occurred. If no record is found at the county level try the state level.
Family History Library Catalog
The Family History Library has copies of many town or city, county, state, and federal naturalization records. To find these in the Family
History Library Catalog, use the Place Search and the topics Naturalization and Citizenship or Naturalization and Citizenship—Indexes.
Begin by searching the county records. In the Place Search, type in the name of the county to find the call number. If your ancestor lived in a large city, begin with the name of the city. U.S. Federal District and Circuit Courts are usually found under the name of the state. You may need to search city, county, and state records to find your ancestor.
In the catalog, find the film number of the naturalization records for the time period of your ancestor’s possible naturalization. Indexes may be listed separately in the catalog or included with each volume. The Family History Library may not have all the records listed in the indexes for each court.
Declarations of intention and naturalization petitions may be together in the same record under naturalization records, or they may have been cataloged separately.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
If the Family History Library does not have the naturalization records you need and the immigrant naturalized after 1906, you can request naturalization records through the Genealogy Program at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS). A copy of the Genealogy Index Search Request form can be downloaded from the same site. Complete the form, and send it with a $20 cashier’s check or money order (no personal checks) to the following address:
USCIS Genealogy Program
P.O. Box 805925
Chicago, Illinois 60680-4120
Naturalization records may also be requested online through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Declarations and petitions may also be available at the National Archives or its regional branches. Search online at the National Archives website for their holdings to see what is available. Obtaining their records may be more cost effective than USCIS.
Variant Spellings—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.
Women and Children—Your ancestors may have been naturalized through his or her husband or father. Women received derivative citizenship (became citizens when their husband obtained citizenship) from 1855 to 1922. Children also received their citizenship through their naturalized father. There are no documents available for derivative citizenship.
Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 1997. FHL Book 973 P4s. This book lists some of the courts where naturalizations took place, the years covered, where the originals are housed, National Archives record group numbers, and the Family History Library film numbers. This book was published in 1997, and the Family History Library has added naturalization records to their collection since then. Always check the Family History Library Catalog to determine if the library now has naturalization records for the area you are searching.
For more information on the naturalization process and major naturalization sources and collections, check the FamilySearch Wiki