- Declaration of intent (first papers)
- Petition for naturalization (second papers)
- Members of the military
With some exceptions, your immigrant ancestors probably followed a two-step naturalization formula: declaration of intention (first papers) + petition for naturalization (second or final papers) = citizenship. As you’ll see from this synopsis, the genealogical details produced during the process can add up, especially for later arrivals.
In this document, an alien renounced his allegiance to his homeland and declared his intention to become a US citizen. The immigrant could make his declaration as soon as he stepped off the boat. Pre-1906 declarations usually contain the immigrant’s name, country of birth or allegiance (for example, an Ireland-born immigrant would’ve renounced allegiance to the British Crown), application date, and the applicant’s signature. Few of these early records give more than the country of origin or the date and port of arrival. Post-1906 declarations of intention also included the applicant’s name, age, occupation, personal description, birth date and place, citizenship, current address, last foreign address, vessel and port of embarkation, US port and date of arrival, date of application and signature.
In the naturalization petition, an immigrant who’d filed his first papers and met residency requirements made a formal application for citizenship. Starting in 1906, second papers included the petitioner’s name, residence, occupation, birth date and place, citizenship and personal description; the date he emigrated; the arrival and departure ports; marital status (with wife’s name and date of birth, if married); names, dates and places of birth and residence of the applicant’s children; the date when US residence commenced; his length of residence in the state; name changes; and his signature. After 1929, the declaration and final certificate included photos.
Despite the requirement to do so, some courts didn’t make applicants file petitions for naturalization prior to 1903. The Justice Department created a special form that year, but not all courts used it. As a result, 19th-century records contain some or all of the following data: the applicant’s name, country of birth, date of application, signature, date and port of arrival, occupation, residence, age, birthplace and birth date.