“I hadn’t thought much about researching the Italian side of my family. I knew most of the basic facts: my grandfather, Lou, had come to America as a teenager with his parents and siblings and lived in New York City for the rest of his life. Unlike my other family lines, which were riddled with name changes and homes and relationships in constant states of flux, Lou’s family was easy to find – they were predictable, almost boring. Inadvertently, I guess I was ignoring them.
Then one day I happened upon Lou’s naturalization record. In it was his birth date, when and where he and his first wife (one of those in-flux family lines) were married, his hometown, an old photo and his signature, which I recognized from birthday cards he’d sent when I was a kid. And the kicker: an address.
I searched it on the Internet and got a current look at the apartment house – the same one where my mother was born. I also discovered and ordered a 1939 tax photo of the residence. Now I have a clearer view of both history and present day. I also have the encouragement I need to ensure I won’t ignore Lou and his wonderful Italian family ever again.”
— Jeanie Croasmun
It wasn’t so simple to become an American citizen. Aliens were required to file paperwork, meet residency requirements, and wait and wait and wait. The following steps show how it all played out in a paper trail — one you can trace.
Step 1. Declarations of Intention (or First Papers). Normally First Papers were completed soon after arrival in the United States. An alien needed to wait at least two years before moving onto the next step, although if the alien waited more than seven years, First Papers had to be refilled and the waiting period stared over again. After 1862, honorably discharged U.S. veterans were excused from this step.
Step 2. Petition (Second or Final Papers). Naturalization Petitions were formal applications submitted to the court by an alien following the mandatory waiting period, during which time the alien was also required to maintain residency in the United States for at least five years with the final six months in the county in which Second Papers were filed. Waiting periods often meant that aliens would file First Papers in their town of arrival and Second Papers in the town they later migrated to.
Step 3. Certificates of Naturalization. When the alien completed all citizenship requirements, a Certificate of Naturalization was issued making the alien a citizen of the United States. Certificates of Naturalization would remain with the person as proof of citizenship. Other documents remained with the court where Second Papers were filed.