Boatload of Questions
Q: Where do I find naturalization records? I’m looking for information from New York City, about 1910-1915.
A. Such a simple question with such a complicated answer! Depending on your access to research facilities and whether you want to do the legwork yourself, you have a couple of options. The simplest is to write directly to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Use form G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request, which you can download at <www.ins.usdoj.gov>. Mail the request to the INS Field Office that maintains the records, or to the INS Field Office nearest your place of residence. Do not send any money; they will notify you if the charge exceeds $25. On the envelope, write “FOIA/PA request.” After mailing the form, get comfortable, since you’ll be waiting many moons for a reply, sometimes a year or more.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service was established in 1906, and copies of all naturalizations made after this date in courts around the country were forwarded to that agency. The process of becoming a naturalized citizen was standardized at that time and involved filing a declaration of intention (first papers), then, after fulfilling a residency requirement, filing a petition for naturalization (second or final papers).
Another option is to visit the National Archives and Records Administration Northeast Region archives in New York City. According to New York genealogist Roger D. Joslyn, this facility has originals and copies of New York City naturalizations and indexes to them through 1906, as well as original federal court naturalizations and corresponding indexes from 1906. For more on their holdings, visit their Web site at <www.nara.gov/regional/public/nycpubli.html>. For non-federal court naturalizations after 1906, visit or write the New York State Supreme Court in the five counties for New York City — Bronx, New York, Queens, Kings or Richmond.
The problem is not knowing in which court your ancestor applied and received his naturalization, which is why it may be easier to grit your teeth and write directly to INS. You might also check the Family History Library <www.familysearch.org> catalog or visit a Family History Center to check the catalog to see if the federal and state courts’ naturalizations are on microfilm.
Finding naturalization records can be quite a challenge, if you haven’t already guessed. Some finding aids to help you search include American Naturalization Records, 1790-1990: What They Are and How to Use Them by John J. Newman (Heritage Quest), They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry) and Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States by Christina K. Schaefer (Genealogical Publishing Co.).
Q: I know Native American tribes in the South were moved to Oklahoma. Could I still have Native American ancestors even if they weren’t moved?
A. There’s plenty of American history that we didn’t get taught in school — such as how racially mixed our society has actually been. Many mixed-blood families didn’t leave as Native Americans were pushed west. Some families, neither “white” nor “black,” evolved into a third community, while others blended into one, the other or both populations.
Mixed-blood families today are common throughout the eastern United States, though many have forgotten their heritage as it was never talked about except perhaps as a legend. Remember, only recently has being of Native American descent been accepted and even sought after. In the Midwest the Scotch-Irish and the French make up the largest intermarriage group among Native American tribes. In the mid-South the Scotch-Irish, English, Scots and Welsh intermarried to such a degree that almost all traces of Native American ancestry have been lost as families “passed for white.” Families that could not “pass” would either intermarry among each other or often became merged into African-American families.
If you’re looking at the US censuses and you find your ancestor listed as “free color,” “black,” “mulatto” or even as “Indian,” there’s no telling what exactly that meant to the census taker. It may be the first clue to Native American ancestors or it may be simply an ancestor with a dark complexion. Another clue might be if your ancestors can be traced back to a county where specific surnames are known to be mixed-blood or “free color” prior to the Civil War. This is especially true in North and South Carolina, where these families are still recognized by residence and surname. Such families may reorganize their tribe and openly keep their heritage alive — a claim they’ve substantiated through genealogy for state and federal acknowledgment of their tribe. Some of these tribes have Web sites; others are just beginning the genealogy process.
Here’s just one example. In Harnett and Sampson counties of North Carolina, the Co-harie families have reorganized with tribal headquarters in the town of Clinton. The old core families that make up the tribe are Amnions, Bledsole, Brewington, Bumette, Carter, Emanuel, Faircloth, Goodman, Hardin, Imanuel, Jacobs, Jones, Manuel, Maynor, Robinson, Simmons, Strickland, West and Williams. Although there are fewer than 2,000 people enrolled in the tribe, uncountable others can trace their ancestry to these core families. This is American history at its best. — Dwight Radford
DWIGHT RADFORD is a professional genealogist and the former co-editor of The Irish At Home and Abroad.