Naturalization Certificate

Your Guide to Finding And Using Naturalization Records

Guides * The Process * Help From the Census *
* Finding the Records * What is Available Online * More Links *



Online Guides

The Process

Step 1: Declaration of Intent (DI) or filing first papers.  With a few exceptions, this could be done only after residing in U.S. two years. (examples of an 1856 declaration of intent, and a 1927 declaration of intention.)

Step 2: Petition for Naturalization, with a few exceptions, filed no sooner than 3 years after the Declaration of Intent. (examples of an 1875 petition for naturalization, and a 1938 petition for naturalization , There was a deadline, usually somewhere between 5 to 7 years following that by which time the petition must be made or the process must start over.

Step 3: Assuming all went well, this resulted in the issuance of the Naturalization Certificate (sometimes called "third papers").  These papers went  to the new citizen and may be in family papers. (examples of an 1885 certificate of naturalization, of a 1943 certificate of naturalization and a 1946 certificate of naturalization)

  • First national naturalization law 1790; naturalization governed by federal law.
  • People did not have to become naturalized and many didn't
  • Naturalizations could take place in any court of record.
    • and the two steps did not necessarily take place in the same court
  • nothing compelled people to take step 2 after time passed.
  • The Homestead Act of 1862 required filing of first papers (but not necessarily taking the second step) if applying for land.
  • An 1862 law allowed foreign soldiers, honorably discharged to bypass the declaration of intention.
  • After October, 1906 all naturalizations had to be reported to the INS.  Information taking was standardized and more information included on the records.
  • Pre 1922 there are few naturalization records for women; after 1922 women could no longer claim derivative citizenship from that of a husband or father.

Help from Census Records

The census records can give you clues that will help you narrow down the timeline. Warning: the clues are not always consistent! In fact, they usually are not!

Questions asked:

  • 1820: How many persons not naturalized
  • 1830, 1840: How many white foreigners not naturalized.
  • 1870:Parentage: Father of foreign birth? Mother of foreign birth? -- this will be indicated only by a hashmark in the appropriate column(s). Keep an eye out.
  • 1900:
    • If an immigrant, the year of immigration to the United States.
    • How long an immigrant has been in the United States.
    • Is the person naturalized?
  • 1910:
    • Year of immigration to the US.
    • Is person an alien or naturalized.
  • 1920:
    • What is the year of immigration to the United States.
    • Is this person naturalized or alien.
    • If naturalized, what is year of naturalization.
  • 1930
    • What year did this person immigrate to the US.
    • Naturalization, i.e. naturalization statu

Abbreviations in census records relating to citizenship :
AL --still an alien, had not started the naturalization process
PA --" first papers" filed, that is the declaration of intent and indicates the person started the process.
NA-- process completed and person is naturalized.

The extent of information on these papers varies from date to date and court to court, but in general, there is substantially more information in post 1906 papers, when it was required that information be reported to the INS.

Finding the Records

Pre 1906: Early 19th century records tend to have very little information, sometimes only the name of the applicant and identification of the foreign ruler. Later in the century some courts asked for more information, so these records might also include age and or birthdate, place of birth, date and place of entry into the U.S.

Post 1906: the questions were standardized and included name, age, physical description (sometimes including a photograph), occupation, current residence, point of embarkation, name of vessel or type of conveyance, place and date of arrival in the U.S. and last foreign residence.

  • in 1916 added marital status and spouses name and residence.
  • in 1918 added spouses place of birth
  • in 1929 added names,, date of birth, place of birth and the current residence of the petitioner's children, spouses birthdate, and his or her place and date of entry into the U.S. and the place and date of marriage.  (note: I've seen petitions earlier than 1929 that include information about the children).

You can obain naturalization records from

Local Courts:

To see if the records are available through the Family History Library, check both the state and county jurisdictions, looking for the sub topic Naturalization and Citizenship, e.g.

  • Pennsylvania --Naturalization and Citizenship
  • Northampton Co. Pennsylvania -- Naturalization and Citizenship.
  • At the state jurisdiction you are likely to find compilations covering more than one county and some District or Circuit courts. This latter group is usually microfilm copies of National Archives records.
  • At the county jurisdiction, you will find naturalizations filed in the local courts.

National Archives: As mentioned above, these are records from old U.S. District and Circuit Courts and you will often be able to get copies through the Family History Library. The National Archives records are not held at Washington D.C., but available through the Regional Archive appropriate for the state.

Introduction to Naturalization Records and Naturalization Records (both pages need to be read).

USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Servce, was INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service, formerly U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization)

The U.S.C.I.S. now offers a for-fee service through the genealogy section of their website. USCIS has records for

  • Those who naturalized between September 27, 1906 and March 31, 1956
  • Those who arrived as immigrants from July 1, 1924 to May 1, 1951
  • Those who were alive in the US and registered as aliens (non-citizens) under the 1940 Alien Registration Act.
  • Those who arrived before 1924, and who later underwent Registry (legalization) between 1929 and 1944
  • Overview of the record groups named above. (Historical Records Series)

If your ancestor fits in one of these groups, you will first pay for a search of an index, then send in for the records (which you will also pay for.)

What is available online?

Online searchable naturalization indexes and records

Access Genealogy Naturalization Records Online contains information, examples and links to some online records.

More Links

For more web sites, see Cyndi's List topic: Immigration and Naturalization


Back to Bobbie's Genealogy Classroom
This page last updated October 19, 2017