Unusual Records: Petitions for Naturalization

Unusual Records: Petitions for Naturalization

In this newest installment of his series on overlooked immigration records, Rich is sharing what you can possibly find by tracking down an ancestor's Petition for Naturalization.

Petitions Naturalization Repatriation Records

In early 20th-century America, xenophobic tensions were at a high and the women’s’ right to vote was (somewhat) nigh. In an oft-forgotten move, Congress passed legislation that stripped certain native-born women of their citizenship, based on who they married and when.

The Case Study of Adele “Delia” Koskis

Adele “Delia” Koskis was born in September 1897 in Brooklyn. She married Matthew Starkus in June 1916 in Brooklyn. Matthew had arrived in the US in 1909. He worked as a tailor and laborer. The couple had two children, Adele and Joseph, and continued to reside in Brooklyn.

Repatriation

Adele naturalized (or more accurately, repatriated) as a U. S. citizen 14 August 1934 at the U. S. District Court in Brooklyn. No, you didn’t misread that. Adele lost her U. S. citizenship by marrying an alien man between 2 March 1907 and 22 September 1922. During this timeframe, under the Expatriation Act of 1907, “…any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband.” Because Adele married Matthew, an alien, in June 1916, she was stripped of her citizenship – even though she’d never stepped foot out of the country.

Unfortunately, Matthew died young in October 1940. It doesn’t appear that he ever became a citizen. No U. S. records yet found for Matthew suggest his exact place of origin in the Russian Empire.

However, thanks to Adele’s Petition for Citizenship, we can learn of Matthew’s place of origin – Vilhavishkas, Lithuania – an apparent Anglicization of Vilkaviškis.

The forms you’ll likely find

Repatriation records don’t always include the same types of detailed information that “normal” citizenship paperwork does. However, they generally do include:

  • A Certificate of Examination
  • Petition for Citizenship/Naturalization
  • An Oath of Allegiance

The forms changed over time. Adele actually repatriated earlier than most women in her situation. Laws weren’t in place until 1936 (for those divorced or widowed) or 1940 (for women who were still married to the husband whose foreign nationality lost them their citizenship) for women to efficiently repatriate. Perhaps for some reason, Adele was in a hurry to regain her citizenship. Woman had been granted the right to vote 14 years earlier, after all.

Not everyone could be repatriated

Through all this, it’s also important to remember that individuals of most Asian nationalities were not eligible to naturalize until the 1940s or 1950s. Thus, women married to Asian men were not allowed to repatriate until their husband’s nationality was recognized as “racially eligible.”

Adele outlived Matthew by 41 years . They were buried side-by-side in Saint John Cemetery in Queens, New York. It’s only thanks to Adele’s repatriation that we were able to learn Matthew’s place of origin. Now, to figure out where Adele’s parents were born…


If you’re having trouble tracking down your ancestor’s country of origin, don’t give up. There may be additional sources that you’ve yet to investigate. So far in this series, Rich has discussed city marriage returns, early alien registration records, naturalization correspondence files, and registration affidavits of alien enemies. Check out his previous posts for tips on using these records, as well as case studies.

If you want to become an expert when it comes to immigration records, also be sure to check out our Immigrant Ancestry MEGA Collection.

You’ll Love This Collection If:

you want to find information on your immigrant ancestors
you want to find the migration route your ancestor took, from origin to port to final destination
you want to learn where to find immigration records
you want to know if your ancestors were naturalized
you have traced your family line as far back in America as they can, and want to take your research to the next level

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