At first glance, the records in our new collection of New York naturalization indexes don’t look very exciting. But if you know what to do with one of these bare-bones index cards, it can lead you to a family history jackpot: your ancestor’s original citizenship application.
The index card above shows that Addie Susan Smith declared her intention to become a U.S. citizen on March 15, 1926.
A typical card in this collection includes the applicant’s name, a declaration or petition number, a volume number (referring to a court record book) and the date the application was filed. You can use the information on the card to request the original application from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Ever since 1795, U.S. naturalization has been a three-step process:
- Step 1: The applicant files a Declaration of Intention (also known as “First Papers”), indicating his or her intention to become a citizen.
- Step 2: The applicant files a Petition for Naturalization or Petition for Admission to Citizenship (also known as “Second Papers” or “Final Papers”). This step takes place at least three years after the Declaration of Intention is filed and at least five years after the applicant’s arrival in the United States.
- Step 3: The government approves the petition and issues a Certificate of Naturalization.
In 1906, Congress established the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, which standardized naturalization processes. Before 1906, any court at the local, state or federal level could grant petitions for naturalization. Forms varied, and some courts didn’t bother to issue certificates. This particular collection covers the years 1906–1966, after the forms were standardized.
There can be great information in a petition for naturalization. A typical petition for the years covered by this index includes dozens of details, including the applicant’s occupation, birth date, birthplace, current address, date of arrival, name of the ship that brought the applicant to the United States, port of departure, last foreign residence, and names and ages of the applicant’s spouse and children. Some pre-1906 petitions even included a fairly detailed physical description. Beginning in 1906, married applicants had to provide their marriage date and the birth dates and birthplaces of their spouse and children.
The Petition for Naturalization above contains numerous biographical details about the applicant, Jacob Guerwitz, and his family.
In the 1928 petition above, a Bronx carpenter, Jacob Guerwitz, is applying for citizenship. Born in Russia, Guerwitz sailed from Buenos Aires to New York on a ship called The American Legion in 1923. It appears that this voyage was not his first trip to the United States, as he had declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen in 1922.
Had he filed his petition a few years earlier, his wife, Rose, would have been automatically naturalized when Jacob received his citizenship. But in 1922, in response to pressure from the National League of Women Voters, Congress established an independent citizenship process for married women — although a woman married to a U.S. citizen was not required to file a declaration of intention.
In some cases you might come across an index card with an “M” for “military.” Beginning in 1862, the government waived the declaration of intention for aliens who had been honorably discharged from U.S. military service. A law passed in 1918, shortly after the United States entered World War I, established a fast-track naturalization process for aliens who joined the U.S. Armed Forces, allowing them to skip the declaration and bypass the residency requirement entirely.
Once you’ve found your ancestor’s index card on Ancestry.com, how do you get your hands on a copy of the original application? If you can't find it in these collections on Ancestry, write to the National Archives at New York City requesting the document referenced on the card. Be sure to include all of the information on the card and — this part is very important — mention the court and district (for example, U.S. District Court, Western District of New York). For good measure, it wouldn’t hurt to include the microfilm number (in this case, M1677). You can find the court and microfilm information in the database description, as well as in the online index associated with the record.
The standard fee is $7.50 per document. For an additional $15, the National Archives will provide you with a certified copy. The easiest way to submit your request is through the online ordering system. If you prefer to send a letter through regular mail, include a check made out to NATIONAL ARCHIVES TRUST FUND.
For New York records, send your request to:
National Archives – Northeast Region
201 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014
If you need a document from another state, go to the Locations page on the National Archives website to learn which regional office serves that state.
Members of the family history community created the search index for this collection through the Ancestry.com World Archives Project. As a result, the index will always be available to the public for free on Ancestry.com. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this effort. To learn how you can get involved, please visit the Ancestry.com World Archives Project home page.
For more helpful tips on using immigration records, see Juliana Szucs’ article, Finding Seven Keys to Understanding Naturalization Records.