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At immigration gate, a woman had to stand by her man

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 09:02 PM

Behind every successful man is a woman, the saying goes. Genealogists researching immigration records are wise to keep that in mind.

Before 1906, the United States had no naturalization rules for women. Laws granted women derivative citizenship; a woman got her citizenship from her husband's or father's successful application. Women literally were standing behind their men.

When researching male ancestors, we look for a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen and a petition for citizenship. From 1804 to 1934, if a man died before his application was granted, his widow and minor children could become citizens just by going to court and taking the oath of allegiance and renouncing citizenship in any other country. So researchers shouldn't waste time looking for applications and declarations from female immigrants.

In 1855, Congress passed a law that granted citizenship to any foreign-born woman who married a U.S. citizen. Up until 1922, American courts decreed that a woman married to an alien could not initiate her own citizenship.

A woman of those times proved her citizenship with a copy of her marriage license and her husband's citizenship papers. That, therefore, is how modern-day researchers also prove their female ancestors' citizenship.

If a man came to America first and became a citizen while his wife remained in the European homeland, she also became a citizen although she had yet to set foot on American soil. That can be confusing for a researcher who thinks he's located records of a woman's arrival in the United States - as a citizen. The same quirk applied to any children the couple had.

In 1907, a new law rescinded the citizenship of women born in the United States if they married non-U.S. citizens. The women's citizenship was reinstated if and when their husbands became citizens. Because Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men could not become American citizens - that was offered to "White" men only - women who married them could not regain their citizenship.

Despite those laws, researchers occasionally may find court records where citizenship was erroneously granted to women who applied for it despite their marriage to noncitizens. When a researcher finds such a citizenship grant, he should check court records to see whether someone (usually an immigration official) filed a case to get the citizenship revoked.

In 1922, Congress passed the Married Women's Act, also called the Cable Act, allowing women to seek citizenship independently. It also overturned the requirement that women lose their U.S. citizenship when they married aliens, and it restored citizenship to those women who had lost it under the earlier laws.

Researchers seeking ancestors prior to 1906 have the daunting task of researching in all courts of record (municipal, county, state or federal) to find evidence of citizenship applications. After 1906, the law required that applications go through the federal system, usually a district court. For information on how to conduct naturalization research, go to www.archives.gov/genealogy/naturalization.

Those researching pre-1906 records should also check the Church of Latter Day Saints Library. At the online home page, www.familysearch.org, click on "Library" and select "library catalog" from the pull-down menu. Find naturalization records either by a "place" or "keyword" search.

Some naturalization records are online at www.footnote.com, which can be accessed at a local library or by subscription from a home computer. Another resource is through U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Department of Homeland Security), which has a fee-for-service program on immigration records. Check it out at www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis and access it via the genealogy link in the left-hand column, "Other Services."

Jewish research seminar

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Tampa Bay and Emil H. Isaacson offer the first session of a two-part seminar for beginning (and an update for experienced) researchers on Feb. 14. The second part will be March 14.

Registration starts at 1:30 p.m. on both dates, and the seminars are from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Center, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater.

The event is free to members of the Jewish Genealogical Society. A $25 fee for nonmembers will include a one-year family membership to the group. Attendees also pay $10 for seminar materials. Call Sally Israel at (727) 343-1642 to register in advance, which is recommended by the group.


Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets that she is unable to assist wit

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