Naturalization Records

By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist

Naturalization refers to the process required for an alien immigrant to become a US citizen. Laws regulating this process have changed over the years. When trying to locate naturalization records for one of your ancestors, it's important to know what you won't find, and therefore not waste valuable research time.

  • Originally, immigrants coming from the British Isles were considered citizens and the immigrants from Continental Europe were only required to take an oath of allegiance before leaving the ship to become an American Citizen.
  • In 1790 Congress began legislation for naturalization. Two years in the US and one year in the applicant's state was required.
  • Between 1855 and 1922 a woman automatically became a citizen by marrying a citizen or upon the naturalization of her husband.
  • If a man served in the US military, he was not required to file a Declaration of Intention and only needed to wait one year to become a citizen.
  • Children under the age of sixteen received citizenship through their parents naturalization.
  • When territories are annexed by the United States, all the residents become citizens by collective naturalization.
  • Not all immigrants became naturalized.

In 1868 the 14th Amendment gave courts jurisdiction of naturalization. The requirement for naturalization changed periodically. The law did not designate which court was responsible, so any court, county, state or federal could grant citizenship. Also a person could file their Declaration of Intent in one court and receive their citizenship in another. The process usually took from three to five years (depending on the requirements) and if your ancestor moved during this time, a search in both courts will be necessary. Search county courts first, then state and Federal. The WPA began a project copying and indexing naturalization records from 1787 to 1906 but only completed Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The naturalization process is long and involved, but the records of most interest to the genealogist are "The Declaration of Intent", the "Petition for Naturalization", and the Certificate granting citizenship. The Certificate usually gives very little information other than the actual date the person became a citizen. The declaration and petition, however, can contain quite a lot of valuable information.

In 1906 the Bureau of Immigration and naturalization was established and records must be ordered from the National Archives Regional Facilities (

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