Finding your foreign roots – Part 2
If your ancestor was naturalized how do you find the records? It’s important to determine where your ancestor was living at the time he was naturalized. Prior to 1906 any court could perform a naturalization ceremony. Your ancestor could have been naturalized in a municipal, county, state, or federal court, so having an idea where he lived at the time is of great importance.
If you aren’t sure of residency, rely on the U.S. censuses and look for town or city directories to narrow where your ancestor was living. City directories can be found on ancestry.com available at libraries for free. Naturalizations done at the state level were usually held at the state archives but many have been moved to the nearest National Archives branch (NARA). In Maine the closest branch is at Waltham, Mass. where you can search for records and purchase copies. You can try to find an ancestor in indexes on ancestry.com and order a copy of the record at Archives.gov.
The Declaration of Intention to become a citizen (first papers) can be valuable to genealogists since it often contains the information we’re looking for such as birthplace, the name of the vessel he came on, entrance port and date of entry, the latter items important if you wish to check passenger ship records also found at NARA. Keep in mind a Declaration of Intention could be filed in a different state from where your ancestor eventually chose to live and where he was naturalized. Sadly, not all Declarations are much help. My paternal grandfather’s simply states he was a citizen of Russia, a grave insult to a Lithuanian who fled from the brutality of the Russian government. Russia had seized Lithuania by force and terrorized its citizens even forbidding speaking their native language. Some of the first and second papers (“petition”) can be found in state archives or court records so be patient in your searching.
After 1906 the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (INS) was created and the process of naturalization became more organized. The records of the INS are searchable at uscis.gov. These include naturalization certificates, alien registration forms, visa files, alien case files, and registry files. A few are digitized on ancestry.com and Fold3.com as well.
As for the ladies, your female ancestor became a citizen automatically when she married a U.S. citizen until the 20th century. An American woman lost her citizenship after 1860 if she married an alien and left the U.S. In 1907 a native born female citizen lost her citizenship altogether if she married a non-US citizen. This was changed in 1922, possibly because women had earned the vote in 1920. Women who lost their citizenship through marriage had to undergo repatriation even if the couple divorced or the husband died. Today, female immigrants go through the same naturalization process as males, even if they marry an American citizen.
I wish you the best of luck in locating your ancestor’s naturalization records and reliving his or her path to American citizenship.
Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in Dover-Foxcroft with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.