A. Such a simple question with such a complicated answer! The simplest option is to write to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) <uscis.gov>, established as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1906. Courts around the country forwarded copies of all naturalizations made after that date to INS, which also standardized the process of becoming a citizen. It involved filing a declaration of intention (first papers), fulfilling a residency requirement, then filing a petition for naturalization (second or final papers).
Make your request using form G-639, which you can download from the CIS Web site (click About Us and FOIA on the left). Mail it to the USCIS field office that maintains the records, or the one nearest your home. Don’t send money; staff will notify you if the charge exceeds $25. On the envelope, write “FOIA/PA request.” Send the form, then get comfortable: You’ll be waiting many moons for a reply, sometimes a year or more.
Another option is to visit the National Archives and Records Administration’s Northeast Region facility <www.archives.gov/facilities/northeast_region.html> in New York City. According to genealogist Roger D. Joslyn, this facility has New York City naturalization records and the indexes to them through 1906, plus federal court naturalizations and indexes from 1906. For nonfederal court naturalizations after 1906, visit or write the New York State Supreme Court in New York City’s five counties Bronx, New York, Queens, Kings and Richmond.
If you don’t know which court to look in, it may be easier to grit your teeth and write to USCIS. You also might check the Family History Library catalog <www.familysearch.org> to see if the federal and stare courts’ naturalizations are on microfilm.
You’ve probably guessed that finding naturalization records is a challenge. For help, see American Naturalization Records, 1790-1990: What They Are and How to Use Them by John J. Newman (Heritage Quest,) and Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States by Christina K. Schaefer (Genealogical Publishing Co.).
From the September 2004 Trace Your Family History.