ON BECOMING NATURALIZED
The land of the free has not always been so free for immigrants of either sex coming into the United States. Women were not equally represented in early naturalization records and not all women seeking naturalization actually received it. Black people were not allowed to vote until the 14th Amendment was passed as a result of the Civil War. Until then, only free white men could be naturalized. That Amendment gave the right of citizenship to recently freed slaves.
There are others. American Indians were not granted citizenship rights until 1924. Indians had a special status under federal law until the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Female Indians could become citizens after marrying a white man, as was true of other females. Even though Indian men became citizens after they served in the military service, through treaties, or by special statutes, they were not allowed the same courtesy to be naturalized as were foreigners asking for citizenship. Only full citizenship status was granted after the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
It is worthwhile to study these amendments to fully understand their meaning and intent. Additionally, it is necessary to understand the process an immigrant goes through to become a citizen, which will in turn give you a better understanding of the process involved in becoming a citizen.
Knowing that Declarations of Intentions for Naturalizations are also known as First Papers is significant. This is the first step taken to becoming a naturalized United States citizen. It is also important to understand that the Naturalization laws and requirements changed many times over the years. The information found on one form may be inconsequential to the wealth of information found on another. This information varies over the years from form to form and state to state. First papers may be filed in one state, while Second Papers are filed in another. Nevertheless, I recommend genealogists use these for their genealogical data, however large or small.
After submitting the First Papers and meeting the residence requirements, the next step in the process is getting the Petition to become a citizen. These documents are Second Papers, or Final Papers. Although these may contain a significant amount of genealogical information, the content for this process varies widely.
Next in the progression is the filing for the Certificate of Naturalization. Prior to this step, the immigrant must have completed the First Papers and Second Papers.
I have a Certificate of Naturalization dated 1917 which has a great deal of information on it. Angelo Stella’s Certificate of Naturalization is in Washington County, Rhode Island, in volume 1, number 17, stamped with the Superior Court number 774066. The date on the certificate was September 17, 1917. Angelo was 40, white, an average height of five feet eight inches tall. He had blue eyes and light brown hair. His wife Irma was 32 years old and they had a ten-year-old daughter named Mary. The family lived at 14 Hobart Street in Westerly, Rhode Island. Angelo and his family had formerly been a subject of Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy. The Certificate stated that Angelo had been a resident of the United States for at least a period of five years, and of the state of Rhode Island for at least one year. The ceremony was at the September term of the Superior Court of Washington County, Rhode Island. It is a beautiful certificate complete with the seal of the United States.
Naturalization papers are located in many different places, making them difficult to find, but certainly worth the effort for their value to family historians. I suggest you look at a few websites for further information on naturalization in general, and women, slaves, and American Indians in particular. The National Archive site on Naturalization is www.archives.gov/genealogy/naturalization/. For more on women seeking citizenship, see www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/summer/women-and-naturalization-1.html. The Indian Naturalization act of 1924 is at www.nebraskastudies.org/0700/frameset_reset.html?http://www.nebraskastudies.org/0700/stories/0701_0146.html.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.