Educator Resources

From Immigrant to Citizen: Declaration of Intention for Maria von Trapp

From Immigrant to Citizen: Declaration of Intention for Maria von Trapp


Maria Augusta von Trapp, File 12743, Vol. 119; Petitions & Records of Naturalization, 1908-1970; United States District Court for the District of Vermont; Records of the District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Boston. National Archives Identifier 596198.

Historical Background

The Congress shall have Power . . . To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization
-Article 1, section 8, U.S. Constitution

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside
-Amendment 14, Section 1, U.S. Constitution

Before the von Trapps Went to America

Among Adolf Hitler's early steps toward creating an empire of German-speaking lands was the annexation of Austria. Austria wanted to maintain its autonomy; however a coup d'état by the Austrian Nazi Party took place on 11 March, control of the country was transferred Germany, and German troops entered and occupied Austria to enforce German power. Austria was annexed to the German Third Reich on 12 March 1938.
Learn more about World War II

Document Background

This document is from a file in the National Archives. It is for Maria von Trapp, the mother (and step-mother) of the Trapp Family Singers. She was living in Stowe, Vermont, at the time.

The file consists of documents submitted to the Court for the naturalization (citizenship) of Maria Augusta von Trapp: the Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, the Petition for Citizenship, and the Certificate of Arrival.

The Declaration of Intention is the first paper Maria filled out to indicate her plan, or intention, to become a citizen. The Certificate of Arrival was issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and certifies the port of entry, manner of arrival, and date when von Trapp was admitted to the United States for permanent residence.

The Petition for Citizenship is the court record, and it includes affidavits of witnesses and her Maria's signed oath of allegiance to the United States.

Who was Maria von Trapp? She was the step-mother of a musical family of singers in Austria during World War II, who resisted Hitler and the Nazi regime, and whose story was later immortalized in the stage musical and movie The Sound of Music.

Anyone who has seen the musical or movie The Sound of Music may wonder what happened to the von Trapp family after they departed Austria in 1938. Federal records from the National Archives at Boston can help shed some light on that question.

The von Trapps fled Austria after the German annexation of Austria, fearing reprisals resulting from declining to sing at Hitler's birthday party, and Georg von Trapp's refusal to accept a commission in the German Navy.

The family, along with their musical conductor, Rev. Franz Wasner, and secretary, Martha Zochbauer, left Austria for Italy in June 1938. They entered the United States at New York in the fall of 1938 under six month visitors' visas and almost immediately began a concert tour in Pennsylvania. Son Johannes was born in January 1939 in Philadelphia. Their visitors' visas expired, and they left for a short tour in Scandinavia. Back in the U.S. in the fall of 1939 on visitors' visas, they entered at New York

In 1944, several of the von Trapps applied for U.S. citizenship by filing declarations of intention at the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont. The von Trapps, in order to establish their legal entry into the United States for the purposes of documenting their permanent residence, entered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on December 30, 1942.

The von Trapps' story, while one of the better known, is merely one of thousands of immigrant experiences documented in the records of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Learning Activities

Examine it!

  1. Imagine that you are a writer creating the biography of Maria von Trapp. Examine the 17 content fields of Maria von Trapp's Declaration of Intention. Use this evidence to write a brief narrative explaining who this person Maria von Trapp is. Include where and when she was born, her physical description, her occupation, and information about members of her family.
  2. The von Trapps' story, while one of the better known, is one of millions of immigrant stories documented in the records of the National Archives. Filing a Declaration of Intention was part of the naturalization process.
    1. According to the document, how many copies and to whom was this completed document issued?
    2. List the information contained in the document
    3. In 1944, under which cabinet department was the Immigration and Naturalization Service administered?
  3. Using the document, create a genealogical family tree of the Von Trapp family.
  4. Sometimes, government documents also contain information or items that have a personal touch and really give you a sense of the real person. Imagine this document is about your ancestor, and this is your first time encountering this person. What items or information seem especially personal to you?

Collect Needed Knowledge of the Time and Place

  1. Refer to a world map. Find where the von Trapps came from. Draw their possible routes to New York and to Vermont.
  2. Research World War II to try to explain why the von Trapp family would want to leave their home.

Use it!

Examine the 2-page passenger list and other records of the von Trapp family's immigration. Use the Archivist Detectives worksheet to guide this exploration.

  1. Create a picture book or scrapbook, using real photographs and documents and your own illustrations to tell the true story of the von Trapp family, or another immigrant family. Perhaps your own!
  2. Occasionally immigration officers pulled aside entering immigrants whose intentions for entering the U. S. were unclear. The Special Board of Inquiry was responsible for clarifying the status of the individual. Look at the passenger list and find that the von Trapps were labeled "SI" that is, designated for Special Inquiry. Examine the Record of aliens Held for Special Inquiry. What was the outcome of the 1938 Von Trapp detainment?
  3. Try to understand the sentiments of the times. Interview someone who is an immigrant.
    1. Where were you born? How old were you when you came to the United States?
    2. What are your earliest memories of your home country? Of the US?
    3. Why did you leave? Why did you come here?
    4. Tell some stories about your original country and about being an immigrant.
    5. Do you have advice to help people understand the immigration experience?

Broadening Activities

  1. On a map of the world, place sticky notes on the geographic locations that you, your friends, and your classmates originally come from. Include all your ancestors.
  2. Create a graph to plot where and when you ancestors came to America. Place the locations on the y-axis and dates on the x-axis.
  3. Memorize, illustrate, and recite the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus.
  4. Take a position and support it with evidence: the words of Emma Lazarus's poem on the statue of liberty describe our country as having a "golden door." How does (or doesn't) our country, our community, our school welcome "the homeless, tempest-tost" immigrants who are "yearning to breathe free?" What, if anything, should we change or improve? What should we preserve?
  5. Learn all the verses of the song "This Land is Your Land." Illustrate the song with documents and original pictures.
  6. Watch the movie or listen to the music of "The Sound of Music." Learn the songs. Perform them!
  7. Read "Movie vs Reality: The Real Story of the von Trapp Family."
  8. Create a role playing discussion between the Von Trapps and the movie screenwriter, director, and producer about the inconsistencies portrayed about their lives and how to tell -or not tell-the true story.

Additional Resources

National History Standards

  1. Grades K-4
    1. K-4 - Historical Thinking: Chronological Thinking
      1. Standard 1 - Create time lines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.
    2. K-4 Historical Thinking: Historical Analysis and Interpretation
      1. Standard 3 - Distinguish between fact and fiction by comparing documentary sources on historical figures and events with the fictional characters and events included in the story and its illustration
    3. K-4 Content Standards - Topic Three: Standard 5A - The causes and nature of various movements of large groups of people into and within the United States, now, and long ago.
      1. Draw upon data charts, historical maps, nonfiction and fiction accounts, and interviews in order to describe "through their eyes" the experience of immigrant groups. Include information such as where they came from and why they left, travel experiences, ports of entry and immigration screening, and the opportunities and obstacles they encountered when they arrived in America. [Appreciate historical perspectives]
  2. Grades 5-12
    1. Grades 5-12 Historical Thinking: Chronological Thinking
      1. Interpret data presented in timelines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred.
    2. Grades 5-12 Historical Thinking: Historical Comprehension
      1. Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage by identifying who was involved, what happened, where it happened, what events led to these developments, and what consequences or outcomes followed.
    3. Grades 5-12 Historical Thinking - Historical Research Capabilities
      1. Obtain historical data from a variety of sources.
      2. Era 8 - Standard 3A - The student understands the international background of World War II