Expert answers on finding your ancestors' naturalization records.
. Several branches of my
family came to United States in the 1860s from Sweden and Germany and
England—before Ellis Island. Were these people automatically made
citizens or did they have to apply for naturalization? Where would one
go to learn of this procedure?
Any immigrant coming to the United States in the mid-1800s would've
had to be naturalized to become a citizen. Not everyone filed for naturalization, so keep this in mind when looking for records.
For those who did file, the process was twofold:
First, the newcomer would have filed a declaration of intent for
citizenship (referred to as “first papers”). After fulfilling the
residency requirement, he could then file his petition for
naturalization. He had to sign these “final papers”—so if you can find
that petition, you’ll have the added treat of seeing your ancestor’s
When male immigrants were naturalized, their
minor children also automatically received citizenship. Between 1855 and
1922, their wives did, too.
The federal government standardized
the naturalization process (including the paperwork) in 1906. Since
your ancestors arrived before that, they could've filed for citizenship
in any court—they might even have started the process in one location,
then completed it in another. To cover all your bases, you’ll need to
hunt for records at the local, county and state levels.
Fortunately, naturalization indexes and record collections on websites such as FamilySearch.org
include some applications from before 1906. It's easiest to start by searching online collections. If you find your ancestor in a naturalization records index, use the source information provided to track down the original record.
If you don't find your ancestor online, your next step is to run a place search of the FamilySearch online catalog
for locations where your ancestors might have petitioned, then look
under the naturalization heading to identify records available on
microfilm. You can rent the microfilm for viewing at your local FamilySearch Center
If your online and microfilm searches are fruitless, check archives at all three levels. The records may still be with the court where your ancestor filed, or they may have been sent to a state archives or other repository. Some archives and
other official stewards of naturalization records have posted indexes
and documents online. A Google search could turn these up, and NaturalizationRecords.com
is also helpful.
Citizenship and Immigration Services has copies of all post-1906
naturalization records. To request those, use the agency's online Genealogy Program
records can be a gateway to finding your ancestor’s passenger arrival
list, as they often tell port and date of immigration (though the
earlier the records, generally the less detail they contain). In fact,
that’s how I confirmed the family story of my great-grandfather Henry
Essel’s 1888 arrival through Philadelphia, enabling me to locate the
ship manifest recording him and his family.