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Generally, individuals could file their first papers soon after arriving in the United States. There are many variables to consider when searching for citizenship papers.
Keep in mind your ancestor could have immigrated here and not filed for citizenship papers of any kind. Or, he could have taken the first step in the citizenship process but never gone any further. He might have delayed filing his citizenship papers for years.
If your ancestor did file paperwork to become a citizen, he would have typically done it in the county in which he resided at the time. If an individual moved in the years between filing the first paperwork (the Declaration of Intention) and the final part of the citizenship paperwork (the Naturalization or petition), his documents might be found in two different places.
Women could not become citizens separately until 1922. If you are tracing a female ancestor who arrived in America before 1922, the best way to find immigration information about females is to trace them through male relatives. There a few women who did file citizenship records prior to 1922 so it is still a good idea to check the indexes for their name.
Records documenting the citizenship process fall into five categories: Declarations of Intention, Petitions, Naturalization Certificates, ancillary documents, and indexes. Local clerks of court were responsible for maintaining these records. They may exist either as original documents, filed separately or bound together, or as copies of the originals entered onto pre-printed forms in bound volumes. Additionally, they may be preserved in their original form, on microfilm, or in both formats.
Researchers using citizenship records will find relatively few early entries for women. From 1855 until the passage of the Married Woman's Act in 1922 citizenship was automatically conferred on the wife of any male citizen. Since then, women have been required to become citizens in their own right. Users of these records should also be aware that in Wisconsin, particularly in the nineteenth century, many more people filed Declarations of Intention than filed Petitions probably because the Wisconsin constitution granted the right to vote to anyone who had filed a Declaration. The state constitution was amended, effective December 1, 1908, to require full citizenship in order to vote.
Declarations of Intention to Become a Citizen
Declarations of Intention (also known as first papers) document the first step in the citizenship process. In format, the declaration consists of an oath asserting the alien's intent to become a citizen, to support the constitution, and to renounce foreign allegiance and hereditary titles. The preprinted forms used to record declarations prior to 1907 vary with the designs used by the different stationery companies that printed such forms. In content, however, they are generally similar from court to court and from year to year during this period, though some variations do occur. The names of the applicant and the foreign ruler whose allegiance is being renounced and the date are always shown. Declarations also typically include some or all of the following information about the applicant: age or birth date, place of birth, and date and place of entry into the United States.
Following federalization of the citizenship process on September 27, 1906, standardized Immigration and Naturalization Service forms were adopted for general use. While the basic format of the declaration remained the same, significantly more information about the petitioner was to be included. The form now provided name, age, occupation, color, complexion, height, weight, color of hair and eyes, visible distinctive marks, place and date of birth, current residence, place of departure for the United States, name of vessel or type of conveyance, place and date of arrival in the United States and last foreign residence. The applicant’s photograph was also required to be fixed to his or her copy of the declaration and to the copy forwarded to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Generally, no photograph will be found on the copy of the declaration retained by the local court. However, a photograph often will appear with the Petition since the applicant was required to submit his or her copy of the Declaration when filing a Petition. Additional data was added to the declaration in later years: in 1916, marital status and the spouse’s name and residence; in 1918, spouse’s place of birth; and in 1929, petitioner’s address, nationality, name date, place of birth and current residence of petitioner’s children, spouse’s birth date and place and date of entry into the United States, and place and date of marriage.
Petitions (sometimes identified as Petitions and Oaths, or Petitions and Records, or Naturalizations and commonly called second papers) document the second step in the naturalization process. After serving the required period of residency, the applicant could petition the court for admission to citizenship. In format, the document consists of the applicant’s petition to the court and oath of allegiance, and affidavits of two witnesses attesting to the petitioner’s good character and residency for the required time. The order of the court admitting the applicant to citizenship may also be shown, especially after 1902.
As with the Declarations of Intention, the exact content of Petitions filed prior to September 27, 1906, varies from court to court and from year to year. However, name and oath of allegiance of the petitioner, date of the petition, names of the witnesses, and the sovereignty renounced always appear. In addition, some or all of the following may also be included: age or birth date, port and date of entry into the United States, and date and place of filing the Declaration of Intention.
After 1906, standardized forms were adopted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for general use. These new forms retained the same basic four sections found in earlier Petitions: applicant’s petition to the court, affidavits of the witnesses, oath of allegiance, and order of the court. Information in the Petition became substantially more detailed, though it basically repeated the data found in Declarations of Intention. The form now showed the petitioner’s name, residence, occupation, date and place of birth, date and place of emigration, date, place and vessel or other conveyance of entry into the United States, period of residency, place, date, and name of court where the Declaration of Intent was made, marital status, spouse’s name, birth date, and place of residency of the applicant’s children.
The witnesses’ affidavit listed their names, occupations, and places of residence. The court or- der showed the name and date the individual was admitted to citizenship. At the time of citizenship, an alien was permitted to change his or her name. Any such changes were also shown in the court order. Finally, a copy of the Declaration of Intention and of the Certificate of Arrival were attached to the Petition.
In 1910, the court order was altered to show denials of admission or continuations granted in the proceedings. The size of the form was greatly reduced in 1929. However, information included remained unchanged with two exceptions. The place and date of the applicant’s marriage were added and the court order section was deleted and transferred to a separate document. Beginning in 1942, a record of departures from and returns to the United States was added to the form.
Certificates were issued to newly naturalized citizens as evidence of their status. Prior to 1907, standardized forms were not used for these certificates. Few courts retained copies of the documents that were issued. Copies that have survived from that period exist as preprinted forms in bound volumes. Typically, they repeat most of the same information found in the applicant’s Petition. After September 27, 1906, serially numbered, two-part certificates provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service were issued. One copy went to the new citizen, the second to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The local clerks of court retained only the Certificate Stub Books from which the certificates were separated. The stub books record name, certificate number, date, name of issuing court and number of the Declaration, volume and number of Petition, date of court order, and the names, ages, and places of residence of petitioner's spouse and minor children.
Other documents are sometimes found with the citizenship records administered by a county clerk of court. Orders Granting and Denying Citizenship are the official orders of the Court finally conferring or denying citizenship. They list name, any change of name, and the petition number for each individual. The recommendations of the Immigration and Naturalization hearing officer were shown on the Naturalization Petitions Recommended to be Granted which may accompany the court order.
Two witnesses were required to attest to the residency and character of the petitioner. When the petitioner lived outside the state in which application was being made during part of the required period of residency, two additional witnesses from the place of previous residency were also required to testify. In these cases, naturalization examiners in other states were empowered to take written Interrogatories or Depositions of Witnesses from those additional wit- nesses. These are then submitted to the court as part of the petition.
Under the Repatriation Act of 1934, any woman who had or who believed she had lost her citizenship (as a result of the enactment of the Married Woman’s Act) by virtue of her marriage to an alien prior to September 1922 and whose marriage with that alien had since terminated or who had lived continuously in the United States since her marriage was entitled to claim her citizenship by submission of the Application to Take Oath of Allegiance (also called Repatriation Record). The application listed her name, place of birth, date of marriage, spouse’s name, and the date of the termination of her marriage or continuous residency. An oath of allegiance is also included.
In addition to these, several other categories of documents occasionally appear with the citizenship records. Included among them are Transfers of Petitions and Certificates of Loyalty.
The indexes created by the clerks of court vary greatly from county to county. Researchers must review the specific description of the indexes for each county. Three different types of indexes may be found: card indexes, usually on 3 x 5 cards, bound indexes, often with separate volumes for Declarations and Petitions, and indexes in the front of bound volumes of naturalization documents. Except for card indexes, these were usually not created in exact alphabetical order. A typical arrangement is the grouping of names together alphabetically by the first letter of the last name and then listing them chronologically in the order that the declaration or petition was filed. For example, all names beginning with the letter B would be listed together, though they might appear in this order Brown, Bates, Burford, Bost, and Barum - if that was the sequence in which they filed their applications. Other arrangements may group the names somewhat more closely but still not completely in alphabetical order. All names beginning with a common first letter and first vowel might be grouped together. Thus, Bates and Barnes would appear together in one group.
Due to inconsistencies and omissions in some of the court-generated indexes, the UW-Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center has begun to create online, searchable indexes to these documents. These indexes are searchable on our Archives and ARC website.