A Any immigrant coming to the United States in the mid-1800s would have had to be naturalized to become a citizen. The process was twofold: First, the newcomer would have filed a declaration of intent for citizenship (referred to as first papers). After fulfilling the five-year residency requirement, he could then file his petition for naturalization. He had to sign these final papersso if you can find that petition, youll have the added treat of seeing your ancestors John Hancock.
When male immigrants were naturalized, their children also automatically received citizenship. Between 1855 and 1922, their wives did, too.
The federal government standardized the naturalization process (including the paperwork) in 1906. Since your ancestors arrived before that, they could’ve filed for citizenship in any courtthey might even have started the process in one location, then completed it in another. To cover all your bases, youll need to hunt for records at the local, county and state levels.
Start with a place search of the Family History Library catalog for locations where your ancestors might have petitioned, and look under the naturalization heading to identify records available on microfilm. Next, check archives at all three levels. Some archives and other official stewards of naturalization records have posted indexes and documents online: See Joe Beines state-by-state directory of links. NaturalizationRecords.com is also helpful.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services has copies of all post-1906 naturalization records. To request those, download and fill out form G-639 and mail it to US Citizenship and Immigration Serivces FOIA/PA, 111 Massachusetts Ave.,
Washington, DC 20529 (be sure to write Freedom of Information Act Request on the envelope).
Naturalization records can be a gateway to finding your ancestors passenger arrival list, as they often tell port and date of immigration (though the earlier the records, generally the less detail they contain). In fact, thats how I confirmed the family story of my great-grandfather Henry Essels 1888 arrival through Philadelphia, enabling me to locate the ship manifest recording him and his family.
You can learn more about the naturalization process in They Became Americans by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry, $19.95) and The Family Tree Guide To Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (Family Tree Books, $19.99). For Carmacks 10-step guide to tracing immigrant ancestors, see our Yearbook 2003 issue. Library and Archives Canada provides information on Canadian naturalizations.