Urban Research Using Naturalization Records

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Urban Research

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Urban Research
Urban Research Using Census Records
Urban Research Using Vital Records
Urban Research Using Newspapers
Urban Research Using Religious Sources
Urban Research Using Land Records
Urban Research Using Maps
Urban Research Using Naturalization Records
Urban Research Using Court Records
Urban Research Using Business Records
Sources for Urban Research
List of Useful Urban Research Referencs

This article originally appeared in "Urban Research" by Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and John M. Scroggins, MA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Because so many urbanites were immigrants, naturalization records are yet another type of record that urban researchers commonly mine for information. Until 1906, naturalization was strictly a function of the courts. Prior to that year, an individual could be naturalized in any court of record. Some cities supported county, criminal, municipal, police, marine, and mayor’s courts. It was often a matter of choosing which court was close or convenient for the immigrant to approach for citizenship. In October 1906, Congress created the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to standardize the system. One by-product was a greatly expanded set of questions for the immigrant to answer; another was retention of duplicate copies of all final petitions in the Washington office of the bureau. After many of the minor courts stopped naturalizing, their records were frequently filed in county or city offices, and many old court records have been dispersed to archives, historical societies, libraries, and a number of unlikely storage places. A comprehensive guide to information for sources on naturalization research is Loretto Dennis Szucs’s They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins.50

Naturalization records require a petition number for reference purposes. This number is usually available through indexes maintained by the court of record where the petition was filed. The New England states, New York City, and Chicago are blessed with comprehensive Soundex indexes that cover local and federal naturalizations. When the Soundex fails to supply a reference, as it occasionally does, ancillary records, such as order books (which show all naturalizations approved on a given day) and registers (which list petitioners by first initial of surname), may also exist.

Because naturalization conferred voting rights on aliens, voting records are another possible source of information for the urban genealogist. Voter registration lists included the native-born as well as the naturalized, of course, but have the built-in limitation that they cover only those who made the effort to register. Still, voting records are sometimes indexed or registered by ward, and they can provide an avenue for identification when censuses or directories are not available. Precinct block books might substitute for assessment books in areas where few people owned property. Voting lists can provide a test for community involvement. They reflect local mores in other ways, for the linkage between citizenship and voting was not always visible. Voting did not always guarantee full-fledged citizenship, just as citizenship did not always result in the exercise of the ballot. For anyone writing a detailed family history, a study of official election returns, especially those predating the secret ballot, might prove intriguing as a means of identifying political participation. Many genealogical societies are making it a point to see that voter lists are saved and published whenever possible. The Berkshire Family History Association (P.O. Box 1437, Pittsfield, MA 01202-1437 or http://www.berkshire.net/~bfha/), for example, has published in its quarterlies “Registers of Voters in Pittsfield, Massachusetts—1890.”


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