NARA Coast to Coast: Naturalization, Part 1

For the next two NARA Coast-to-Coast features we are going to write about naturalization records.  This week we will discuss naturalization in general and the records you may be able to find at the National Archives.  Next week we will discuss naturalization for minor children, women, and aliens in the U.S. military.

Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. In 1790 the Congress passed the first citizenship law. The law allowed for an alien to be naturalized in any court of record. This meant that an alien could apply for naturalization in a local, state, or Federal court. Typically an alien would apply in the court which was most conveniently located to his or her residence.

Photograph of Federal Judge Michael Igoe Administering Oath of Allegiance, 10/13/1939 (ARC Identifier 593781 / Local Identifier 306-PS-49-13909)
Photograph of Federal Judge Michael Igoe Administering Oath of Allegiance, 10/13/1939 (ARC Identifier 593781 / Local Identifier 306-PS-49-13909)

For most aliens the naturalization process was a two part process that took a minimum of five years (next week we will discuss some exceptions to this process). First an alien would file a declaration of intent. After a prescribed period of residence in the United States, an alien would file his petition for naturalization. An alien also had to receive a certificate of arrival from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that verified his or her legal immigration following a change in the law in 1906. The court issued a certificate of naturalization to the alien when an alien’s petition was granted. This document was the alien’s official proof that he or she was now a U.S. citizen.

Depending on the time period and the circumstances of any particular person, an alien’s naturalization records may include any of the following:
Declaration of Intention
Petition for Naturalization
Certificate of Arrival
Certificate of Naturalization

Prior to 1906 a typical naturalization record will include a declaration of intention and a petition of naturalization. There was no prescribed form for use by courts that were performing naturalization until 1906. Each court used its own forms for the declaration of intention and for the petition for naturalization and each court collected different information about an alien on the forms. Regardless of the form used, declarations and petitions filed prior to September 26, 1906 contain less personal information about the alien and his family than those filed on or after that date.

The naturalization petition of Diederick Scheefer., 08/15/1843 (ARC Identifier 279279)
The naturalization petition of Diederick Scheefer., 08/15/1843 (ARC Identifier 279279)

New forms for both the declaration of intention and the petition for naturalization were introduced following the passage of the Naturalization Act in June of 1906. The new act also required that legal immigration of an alien who wished to be naturalized be verified by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). INS would check the passenger list for the alien and, once legal entry was verified, INS would then issue a certificate of arrival for the alien to the court.

The forms introduced in 1906 were replaced in 1929 and have been replaced several times since then. The declaration of intent form introduced in 1929 included a photograph of the alien.

Declaration of Intention for Greta Garbo, 09/09/1948 (ARC Identifier 595201)
Declaration of Intention for Greta Garbo, 09/09/1948 (ARC Identifier 595201)

A newly naturalized citizen was issued a certificate of naturalization. The courts did not generally keep a copy of the certificate, although stub books for naturalization certificates do exist for some courts. The certificate of naturalization was the new citizen’s proof of his or her naturalization. It was used to prove eligibility to vote, to apply for a U.S. passport, and to prove eligibility for other rights of citizenship.

The National Archives holds copies of naturalization records created by Federal district and circuit courts. The records are held by the National Archives’ Regional Archives that holds records for the state in which the Federal court was located.    If your ancestor was naturalized in a city, county, or state court you may wish to contact either that court or the local or state archive for the naturalization records.  Some of NARA’s Regional Archives also have copies of naturalization records from local and state courts.

Some naturalization records are available on microfilm or online at  for naturalization records filed in Federal courts, you may send requests to the NARA office that holds the records (see the list below to determine the correct office).  Requests should include the petitioner’s name (and variant spellings), place of residence at time of naturalization (city and state at a minimum), approximate year of naturalization, and, if known, the naturalization petition number.   When known, it is helpful to include the names of children and spouse, date of birth, place of birth, and approximate date of immigration with your request.  There is no fee for NARA to search for a naturalization record.  There is a minimal fee to receive a copy, if the records is held by NARA.

NARA office States for which NARA has Federal court naturalization records
National Archives at Boston Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
National Archives at New York City New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
National Archives at Philadelphia Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
National Archives in Washington, DC (Archives I) District of Columbia
National Archives at Atlanta Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
National Archives at Chicago Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota
National Archives at Kansas City Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
National Archives at Fort Worth Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
National Archives at Denver Colorado, parts of Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah Wyoming
National Archives at Riverside Arizona, southern California, Clark County, Nevada
National Archives at San Francisco Northern and central California, Hawaii, Nevada (except Clark County), American Samoa, The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
National Archives at Seattle Idaho, Oregon, Washington (State), parts of Montana
National Archives at Anchorage Alaska

One thought on “NARA Coast to Coast: Naturalization, Part 1

  1. Thank you very much for this information.

    I would like to discuss a vocabulary item that I have stumbled over. Apparently we have been misusing “proscribed” when we mean “prescribed”. “Proscribed” means “to exclude or prohibit.” “Prescribed” means “to order the use of”

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

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