Fitting that July 4, the day we commemorate adoption of the Declaration of Independence, is a popular day for citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. Big ones happen every year at Monticello, the Virginia home of Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson, and at Seattle Center, among other places.
(My immigrant great-grandfather, who wasn’t naturalized on the Fourth of July, gives his birthday on most records as July 4, 1881—I don’t know if he was actually born that day, or he just knew it was a big day in his new country.)
Here are some pointers on finding your ancestors’ naturalization records:
- Not all immigrants became citizens, and some waited until long after they first arrived in the United States. Typically, men who were birds of passage (they traveled between their homeland and America several times before settling here) didn’t rush to become citizens.
- The citizenship process involved filing a declaration of intention to naturalize, also called first papers, then waiting a legally proscribed amount of time (this varied over time) before filing a petition for naturalization, or—you guessed it—second papers. See more on the process, as well as an exception for those in the military, here.
- Your ancestor could file papers at any courthouse. He could even begin the process in one court and finish it another. Aliens more often applied at county and state courts than at the federal level because the fee was usually lower and it was often closer to home. To find naturalization records before 1906, you’ll need to check municipal, county, state and federal courthouses where the immigrant lived.
- After 1906, courts had to file copies of naturalizations with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now US Citizenship and Naturalization Services, or USCIS). You can order copies of these records for your ancestor from the USCIS Genealogy Service.
- Online sources of naturalization records and/or indexes to naturalization records for various parts of the country include subscription sites Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, and the free FamilySearch.
- Many naturalization records and the indexes have been microfilmed. Search for them in the Family History Library Catalog by running a Place search for the state and county (the city, too, if it’s a large urban area), then look under Naturalization and Citizenship. You can rent film through a branch FamilySearch Center near you.
Another naturalization records how-to resources from Family Tree Magazine includes: