Before 1906, an alien could be naturalized in any court of record. Many immigrants, anxious to become citizens, began the citizenship process by taking out papers in the county where they first arrived in the United States. One might have started the process somewhere on the East Coast, for example, and then completed the requirements in the county or state when final residency was established somewhere else. This presents a challenge for family historians seeking the naturalization records of their ancestors. Fortunately, as more and more of these records are being made available online through collections like those on Ancestry, that search is getting easier. Even where the actual records are not available, indexes can lead us to the actual records.
Naturalization records can be rich in detail, providing the date of immigration and the ship, names, ages, and addresses of family members, birth information, current and past residences, signatures, and affidavits from witnesses.
The collection of naturalization and citizenship records on Ancestry includes indexes, and some indexes are linked to images of the actual records.
- The U.S. Census records for 1900-1930 included questions about citizenship status. Entries in the "Naturalized" column can indicate a person’s progress toward citizenship. "NA" was written for naturalized citizens, while the entry "PA" might indicate that first papers (also called a "declaration of intent") had been filed. "AL" indicates the immigrant had not yet begun the naturalization process. Additionally, the 1920 census asked the year of naturalization for immigrants who had naturalized.
- Naturalization records may include more than one page. If you find a record, view the original image and use the arrow keys to scroll to the next page to make sure you’ve seen all the pages.
- Be sure to note and research the names of witnesses on naturalization records. They were often relatives, employers, or friends from the immigrant’s previous home. Tracing these individuals in census, directory, or immigration records may help you learn about your ancestor’s life before and after they arrived in their new country.
- Keep in mind that your immigrant ancestor may not have used the English version of his or her given name and that the surname may also have ethnic variants. Learn the ethnic equivalents and try searches in the immigrant’s native language.
- Try searching for other variations of your ancestor’s name in case it was spelled incorrectly. Wildcards can be used to search for name variants. Click here to learn more about wildcards.
- Learn about pronunciation in your immigrant ancestor’s native language. In some cases clerks may have recorded the name as they heard it.
- When searching the Native American collections within this category, you’ll have better luck if you know the name of the person and the tribe.