Genealogy Q&A: Where to Look for Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Hometown

By Family Tree Editors Premium
Q.  Without knowing my ancestor’s hometown, I can’t seem to find information from his country of origin. How can I learn this key fact?

A. After home sources, such as letters and family Bibles, the best place to find an immigrant’s town of origin is US naturalization records. This is especially true for later arrivals: All naturalization paperwork after 1906 lists the new citizen’s town of origin; earlier documents may or may not.

Other naturalization procedures before 1906 also lacked uniformity, reflecting the fact that any court—local, county, state or federal—could handle your citizenship paperwork. 
Duplicates of records after Sept. 27, 1906, are with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services; request them using Form G-639. The agency can take a long time to respond, however, so try other sources first.
FamilySearch has microfilmed many naturalization records and indexes, which you can rent to view at your local FamilySearch Center. The catalog can tell you what records are available; you may even be able to browse them online at Family­ has a database indexing naturalization records from 15 states. and World Vital Records have an index of 3.7 million naturalization records. The limited information in an index will likely mean a follow-up to retrieve a complete copy of your ancestor’s paperwork.
You can search digitized documents from a dozen states at Also check the regional branch of the National Archives closest to where your ancestor would’ve filed his papers.
You’ll find three types of naturalization records—declarations of intention (“first papers”), petitions for naturalization (“final papers”) and certificates of citizenship. The petitions—filed after a waiting period, typically five years—usually give the most detail. Note that women rarely applied for citizenship before 1922; until then, wives became citizens when their husbands did.
You can narrow the time period for your search using the 1920 US census, which listed citizenship status (Na for naturalized, Pa for filed first papers, Al for alien) and year of naturalization. The 1900 and 1930 censuses listed citizenship status, but not the year.
From the December 2014 Family Tree Magazine