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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
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
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
Online sources of naturalization records and/or indexes to naturalization records
for various parts of the country include subscription sites Ancestry.com and Footnote.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.
Other naturalization records how-to resources from Family Tree Magazine include:
2008 Family Tree Magazine digital issue, with our article on finding naturalization
Tree Magazine Plus members can access
this article here.)
Tree Essentials CD, with guides to 15 key records including naturalization records