NARA Coast to Coast: Naturalization, part 2

In the NARA Coast-to Coast post last week, we discussed the general process for naturalization. This week we will focus on some of the exceptions to the normal process for minors, women, and aliens serving in the U.S. military.

Naturalization and Minors (Children)
Minor children were granted derivative citizenship when their father, or after 1922 their parent, was naturalized. This practice remained in place for children under the age of 21 from 1790 to 1940. There usually will be no record of a minor child’s derivative citizenship unless he or she applied to the Immigration and Naturalization Services after 1929 for a certificate of citizenship.

Between 1824 and 1906 an alien who arrived in the United States as a minor, had lived here for at least 5 years before their 23rd birthday, and whose father had not become a U.S. naturalized citizen could file his declaration and petition at the same time. Although the forms used for this process varied from court to court, the declaration of intention and petition for naturalization are usually found on one form.

Petition Schrader
Petition for Naturalization of Gustav Schrader, 06/22/1870; Petitions for Naturalization; United States Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia.

Naturalization and Women
Early naturalization laws did not restrict naturalization for women and in theory alien women could apply for citizenship. However a variety of laws began to limit a married woman’s rights to naturalization culminating in an 1855 law that effectively restricted naturalization for married women. The 1855 act held that “[a]ny woman who is now or may hereafter be married to a citizen of the United States, and who might herself be lawfully naturalized, shall be deemed a citizen.” Essentially the law said that a woman held the citizenship of her husband. For instance if a German woman immigrated to the United States and married a U.S. citizen, she automatically became a citizen. Or if a German couple immigrated to the United States and the husband was naturalized, his wife was considered a citizen by virtue of his naturalization. A strange quirk of this law was that if a woman who was a native-born U.S. citizen married a foreigner, the U.S. government considered that she had given up her U.S. citizenship in favor of her husband’s citizenship. This was a matter of debate for some time but an act in March of 1907 codified it in law.   The law didn’t prevent all women from becoming naturalized.    Widowed women could apply for naturalization if their husbands had been in the process of naturalization before their deaths and there were also some unmarried women who applied for naturalization. 

Few women pursued naturalization before 1920 because women couldn’t vote – the major right of citizenship – and in many places couldn’t own property. Following the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which gave women the right to vote, there was a movement to change the laws relating to naturalization of women. Congress passed the Married Women’s Act (the Cable Act) on September 22, 1922, allowing women to apply for naturalization on their own. Included in the Cable Act was a provision to allow American-born women who had lost their citizenship due to their marriages to foreigners to file petitions to become citizens. Many U.S. born women who had married foreign citizens did not believe they should have to file for a citizenship to which they had been born. In 1936 Congress passed a new act that allowed U.S. born women who had married foreigners between 1907 and 1922 to take an oath of allegiance (sometimes mistakenly called a repatriation petition).

Petition for Naturalization (1922)
Petition for Naturalization of Anna Landsman, Petition 43263; Petitions for Naturalization; United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at New York.

Naturalization and Military Service
At various points in the history of the United States, citizenship has been used to recruit immigrants into the U.S. military. Service in the U.S. military did not automatically grant citizenship – an immigrant still had to choose to renounce his citizenship or allegiance to another country. However, the government did offer to make the naturalization process easier for an immigrant who joined the U.S. military.

During the Civil War, an alien who had been honorably discharged from the Army (for service in any war) was exempted from filing a declaration of intention and could file his petition for naturalization after living in the United States for only one year. A later law gave the same privileges to Navy and Marine Corps veterans.

In 1918 an act allowed aliens serving in the U.S. military to file their petitions for naturalization without first filing a declaration of intention and exempted them from the five year residency requirement. Almost 200,000 aliens were naturalized at U.S. military bases or in courts close to those bases before being sent overseas to fight during World War I. Other aliens petitioned for naturalization under the provisions of the act and later acts after returning from their military service. Typically, these so called “military” petitions contain less information about the alien than a regular naturalization petition, but the petitions or accompanying documentation may include information about military service.

ODonhue statement
Record of the Examination of Michael Joseph O’Donohue; Petitions for Naturalization; United States District Court for the District of Maryland; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia.

Petition for Naturalization
Petition for Naturalization of Michael Joseph O’Donohue, Petition 9901; Petitions for Naturalization; United States District Court for the District of Maryland; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia.

Searching for Naturalization Records

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


More information about naturalization
Archival Research Catalog Gallery for Naturalization and Immigration
Our Archives Naturalization page
Smith, Marian L. “‘Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married . . .’ Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940.” Prologue, Summer 1998, Vol. 30, No. 2: n. pag.

3 thoughts on “NARA Coast to Coast: Naturalization, part 2

  1. The National Archives at Kansas City also has naturalization records for Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota in addition to the records covering Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.

  2. Unless you have an additional article that I have not yet located, your article totally neglects to mention the highly discriminatory provision of the 1922 Cable Act that denied took away the citizenship of natural born American women and right to apply for citizenship in their own right if they were married to foreign citizens who were “ineligible for citizenship.” This provision was created specifically to discriminate against the Asian immigrant population concentrated on the West Coast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *