Types of U.S. Naturalization Records

A Summary for Genealogy Researchers

Declarations of Intention (also called "First Papers")
The record by which an applicant for United States citizenship declared their intent to become a citizen and renounced their allegiance to a foreign government. Early records of this type (before September 27, 1906) usually will have: name, country of birth or allegiance (but not town), date of the application and signature. Some (but very few) show the date and port of arrival in the United States. After September 26, 1906 much more detailed information is given including place of birth and port and date of arrival.

A Declaration of Intention normally preceded proof of residence or a petition to become a citizen by two or more years. Exceptions: a person who entered the country while a minor, honorable military discharges, a person married to a citizen.

Beginning with 1795 a person could declare their intent to become a citizen at any time after they arrived in the United States. A few people did this almost immediately upon arrival.

The Declaration of Intention requirement ended in 1952 (although immigrants can still file a declaration if they want to; it is optional).

Naturalization Petitions
Following the Declaration of Intention and meeting the residency requirements an applicant then filed this petition for formal application for U.S. citizenship.

There was a 5 year residency requirement (in the U.S.) to become naturalized (raised to 14 years in 1798, lowered back to 5 in 1802).

Generally minor children (not born in the U.S.) could derive citizenship from their father when their father naturalized.

From 1855 to 1922 alien women became citizens automatically if they married an American citizen. Women could derive citizenship from their spouses until 1922 when the law was changed...

After September 22, 1922 an alien woman who married a U.S. citizen could skip the Declaration of Intention and file for a Naturalization Petition. But if an alien woman married an alien man (after September 22, 1922) she would have to start her Naturalization proceedings at the beginning with a Declaration of Intention. For more details see: Women and Naturalization by Marian Smith

Naturalization Depositions
These are statements made by witnesses in support of an applicant's petition.

Certificates of Arrival
On this form the immigrant listed the port name, date and ship of arrival. If the applicant claimed arrival after June 30, 1906, then copies of this form were sent to the port of entry and checked by a clerk, who located the immigrant's passenger list. If a corresponding record was found, the INS issued a certificate of arrival and sent it to the naturalization court. Certificates of arrival were first issued under the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906, which went into effect on 27 September 1906. These certificates are generally included in a naturalization records C-file.

Records of Naturalization and Oaths of Allegiance
The document granting U.S. citizenship to petitioners. Sometimes called the Certificate of Naturalization.

You may not always find every type of record for your ancestor. Slightly different records were kept during different time periods. In some cases all of the records are combined together in a single petition and record file.

How to Find Naturalization Records

Finding U.S. Naturalization Records Online and Off

Helpful Clues in the Census

The 1900 to 1940 Census Records tell whether a person was naturalized. Year of Naturalization is given in the 1920 Census.

Abbreviations used in the Citizenship column of census records: AL=Alien; NA=Naturalized; NR=Not Reported; PA=First Papers Filed (declaration of intention); Am Cit=American Citizen Born Abroad (used in the 1940 census).

Naturalization and the Civil War

An Act of 17 July 1862, stated: "any alien, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who has enlisted, or may enlist in the armies of the United States, either the regulars or volunteer forces, and has been, or may be hereafter, honorably discharged, shall be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, upon his petition, without any previous declaration of intention to become such; and he shall not be required to prove more than one year's residence." (Act of July 17, 1862, 12 Stat. 597, section 21)

Basically this allowed an honorably discharged Civil War veteran (who fought for the Union) to apply for citizenship without filing a declaration of intention and without the usual 5 year residency requirement. It did not grant him automatic citizenship - he still had to apply, but the naturalization process was expedited.

This legislation was enacted to encourage aliens (non-citizens) to enlist during the Civil War, and it also applied to later wars.


BOOK: Christina Schaefer: Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States (Amazon link), Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

BOOK: National Archives Trust Fund Board, Anne Bruner Eales & Robert M. Kvasnicka (editors): Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2000; Pages 87 and 97.

BOOK: Loretto Dennis Szucs: They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins (Amazon link), Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1998.

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