Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series on the history of American citizenship and finding related genealogical records.
From 1790 to 1905, any court in the United States could grant citizenship to any alien who met requirements set by Congress.
Although the congressional acts established basic requirements, various courts interpreted things and kept their records differently. This multi-court procedure contributed to widespread fraud and irregularities in the citizenship process.
So in 1906, Congress created the Bureau of Naturalization and took all issues concerning citizenship from the hodgepodge of courts into the federal system.
The new bureau began setting and collecting standard court fees, standardizing forms and collecting copies of all papers filed in the federal courts. Overall the goal was to reconcile court decisions through interpretation of naturalization statutes.
Applications prior to 1906 had required little information beyond the alien’s name and age. The 1906 act required the spouse’s name, date and place of marriage, birthplace and date of birth for spouse, and the names, dates and places of birth for all of the couple’s children. What a genealogical pot of gold these files created!
Naturalization records from 1906 through today are all federal records under the purview of the National Archives. This centralized records system makes finding records easier than looking at records created by so many different courts during previous years.
Records of federal courts handling these naturalizations are usually in one of the National Archives regional facilities. Researchers can view a list of these facilities at www.archives.gov/locations.
Researchers also can order microfilm or reproductions of records by going online at http://tinyurl.com/klkm5zu.
The National Archives generally doesn’t hold copies of any of the pre-1906 naturalizations that the myriad of federal, state, and local courts administered. Some states have provided microfilmed copies of those earlier naturalizations to the National Archives, however. Researchers can see these lists at www .archives.gov/research/naturalization/naturalization.html.
The best news about researching in post-1906 naturalization records is that many of them are digitized online at Ancestry.com. Researchers can access these records through personal paid subscriptions or at no charge at a local library. At www.ancestry.com and from the home page, click on “Search” and from the drop-down menu select “Immigration and Travel.” On the right side of the next page is a “Narrow by Category” box. Select “Citizenship & Naturalization Records.”
From this page you can search broadly for various related records. But on the right of the page is a “Featured data collections” box. Selecting “U.S. Naturalization Records — Original Documents, 1795-1972 (World Archives Project),” a researcher can search and perhaps find an actual digitized copy of an ancestor’s citizenship papers.
Another thrill — beyond the search and discovery — is that the digital copies often have the applicant’s picture, and they will always have the applicant’s signature.
Next week this series on naturalization will conclude by looking at special classes of people and how the laws from 1790 to 1906 affected them.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Baylife, The Tampa Tribune, 202 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching specific individuals.