Immigration & Naturalization


Basic Starting Information:

  • Name
  • Approximate Date of Immigration
  • Approximate Age at Immigration

Options for Establishing the Basics:

Look for an alphabetical listing of ships that carried immigrants to America.

Heaviest immigration was in the spring – March, April, May – second in the fall – September, October, November

Try to discover whether your ancestor was traveling with someone; try another port – passengers arriving at one part sometimes continued on to another port after completing immigration processing

Combine family knowledge with general information – fit your ancestor in a time and place

Places to find immigration information:

Passenger Lists

Colonial land grants, lists of indentured servants, oaths of allegiance

Newspapers of port cities usually had a columns titled “Harbor News” or “Port Intelligence”

Voter registration records found in local courthouses, especially for the early twentieth century

Homestead application after 1862

US Passport application after 1940

European countries have passport applications



The quality of information varies greatly for the three broad periods of naturalization record keeping – 1790-1850’s, 1850’s-1906, and after 1906.

Six methods of becoming a citizen of the United States:

  • By birth in the United States
  • By naturalization in a court exercising naturalization jurisdiction, through October 1, 1990
  • By derivation through the naturalization of one’s parent(s) or from 1855-1922 by marriage to the petitioner
  • By acquisition at birth through citizen parent(s) if born abroad, as in military service
  • By legislation collectively naturalizing certain groups of persons
  • By annexation of territory to the United States.

Determining which of the six methods likely applies to your ancestor will help you to determine what paperwork was required and may be available for research.  (Only option 2 is likely to have a paper trail and there are MANY exceptions to that generalization.)

Basic Process for Naturalization Through the Courts:

  • Step 1: File a Declaration of Intention
  • Step 2: Petition the court to become citizen
  • Step 3: Take oath and be given citizenship

National and Regional Archives:

Most federal naturalization records are found in the national archives regional archives serving the state in which the federal court is located.

Items at regional archives are national resources in local settings

Each regional archives in the system has historical records from federal courts and from regional offices of federal agencies in the geographic areas each serves


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