Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. It is a voluntary act; naturalization is not required.
Prior to September 27, 1906, any "court of record" (municipal, county, state, or Federal) could grant United States citizenship. Often petitioners went to the court most geographically convenient for them. As a general rule, the National Archives does not have naturalization records created in state or local courts. However, a few indexes and records have been donated to the National Archives from counties, states, and local courts. Researchers should contact the National Archives facility serving the state in which the petitioner resided to determine if records from lower courts are available. In certain cases county court naturalization records maintained by the National Archives are available as microfilm publications. Records from state and local courts are often at state archives or county historical societies.
Beginning September 27, 1906, the responsibility for naturalization proceedings was transferred to the Federal courts. It took time for the lower courts to let go of the practice, so researchers may need to look at lower courts if the National Archives does not maintain a record of naturalization from the early-mid 20th century.
In general, naturalization was a two-step process* that took a minimum of five years. After residing in the United States for two years, an alien could file a "declaration of intention" ("first papers") to become a citizen. After three additional years, the alien could "petition for naturalization" (”second papers”). After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court. [*Exceptions can include cases of derivative citizenship, processes for minor aliens 1824-1906, and special consideration for veterans.]
If a naturalization took place in a Federal court, naturalization indexes, declarations of intention (with any accompanying certificates of arrival), and petitions for naturalization will usually be in the National Archives facility serving the state in which the Federal court is located. No central index exists.
To ensure a successful request with the National Archives researchers should include:
- name of petitioner (including known variants);
- date of birth;
- approximate date of entry to the US;
- approximate date of naturalization;
- where the individual was residing at the time of naturalization (city/county/state);
- and country of origin
In most cases, the National Archives will not have a copy of the certificate of citizenship. Two copies of the certificate were created – one given to the petitioner as proof of citizenship, and one forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Certificates of citizenship were issued by the Federal courts until October 1991 when INS took over responsibility for naturalization proceedings.
All INS records are now overseen by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS maintains duplicate copies of court records (including the certificate of citizenship) created September 27, 1906-March 31, 1956 within Certificate Files (C-Files). Beginning April 1, 1956, INS began filing all naturalization records in a subject’s Alien File (A-File). C-Files and certain A-Files can be requested through the USCIS Genealogy Program. If you are a naturalized citizen seeking your own documentation, you can place a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to USCIS to obtain a copy of your A-File and/or request a replacement certificate of citizenship from USCIS.
- Although there can be inaccuracies in naturalization records, the records cannot be changed or corrected by National Archives staff because they are historic documents that are maintained as they were created by the courts.
- National Archives staff can only issue a certified copy of a document in our custody (see 44 USC 2116 and 44 USC 3112).
- The National Archives does not have authority to issue an apostille. The US Department of State has the authorization to issue an apostille of a copy of a document certified by the National Archives.
- The National Archives does not have the authority to issue a certification of non-existence of a record, and can only issue a negative search letter. Negative results for a search of National Archives holdings only indicates that a naturalization record is not in the possession of the National Archives, not that it does not exist.
- USCIS has exclusive authority over matters concerning citizenship records after 1906 and can provide a Certification of Non-Existence of a Record of Naturalization (see “About Further Research”).
- No central index exists.
- Naturalization records dated prior to October 1991 from the Federal courts are at the National Archives.
- In most cases, the National Archives will not have a copy of the certificate of citizenship granted to a petitioner – our holdings normally include only the declaration of intention (with any accompanying certificate of arrival) and petition for naturalization.
- Naturalization records from state or local courts are often at state archives or county historical societies.
- Naturalization records dated October 1991 and after were created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and are now with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Basic information needed for a successful naturalization request with the National Archives:
- Name of individual (including known variants)
- Date of birth
- Approximate date of entry to the US
- Approximate date of naturalization
- Where the individual was residing at the time of naturalization (city/county/state)
- Country of origin
- Reference Reports on Citizenship and Naturalization
- Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940, an article in Prologue
- "A Gold Mine of Naturalization Records in New England", by Walter V. Hickey
- For more detailed information about naturalization laws and procedures, consult:
Kettner, James H. The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 (Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1978).
Newman, John J. American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1985).
Newman, John J. American Naturalization Records, 1790-1990: What They are and How to Use Them (Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1998).
- For general information about the regulation of immigration into the United States, consult:
U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, An Immigrant Nation: United States Regulation of Immigration, 1798-1991 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991).
- For information about Federal naturalization records and indexes available as National Archives microfilm publications, consult:
Listings for Record Group 21, Records of U.S. District Courts; Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; and Donated Materials in the National Archives in Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1999), which is available online or for purchase.
- For detailed information about research and locating Federal, State, and local naturalization records and their availability on microfilm, consult:
Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "The Location of Naturalization Records," The Record, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 21-22 (Nov. 1996).
Schaefer, Christine. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1997).
Szucs, Loretto Dennis. They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1998.
- See the Naturalization Records of Maria von Trapp
Online Indexes and Finding Aids
Please Note: If a name index is not available online, researchers should contact the National Archives facility serving the state in which the petitioner resided as many indexes exist only in the research room.
- Name Index to Naturalization Records from Dakota Territory and South Dakota
- Name Index to North Dakota Naturalization Records , U.S. District and U.S. Circuit Courts, District of North Dakota
- Name index to naturalization records, including declarations and petitions, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, McCook Division
- Name index to naturalization records, including declarations and petitions, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, Chadron Division
- Name index to naturalizations, 1846 - 1890, U.S. Circuit and U.S. District Courts, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division (St. Louis)
- Naturalization Records available at the National Archives at Kansas City, includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Dakota Territory, and South Dakota
- Naturalization Records available at the National Archives at Chicago, includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin
- Naturalization Records available at the National Archives at Riverside, includes Arizona, California, and Nevada
- Naturalization Records available at the National Archives at New York City, includes New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico
Now you can order copies of naturalization records online through the OrderOnline system!