Research: Topics: Genealogy: Naturalization Records

IV. Naturalization under Federal Law (1790-present)

Since 1790 all naturalizations have been performed pursuant to federal law, under a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 8). Until 1906 any state or federal court of record (a court having a seal and a clerk) could naturalize aliens. (In New York the courts of record included the Supreme Court and the county- and some city-level courts, but not the lower- level city, town, or village justices' courts.) An alien intending to be naturalized first files a declaration of intention to become a citizen (the declaration has been voluntary since 1952). After residing in the United States for five years, the alien may petition a court to be naturalized. (Many aliens who filed declarations never petitioned for naturalization.) The court holds a hearing on the petition and takes testimony from witnesses to determine whether the alien meets residence and character requirements. If the petition is accepted, the alien takes the oath of allegiance and the court records the final naturalization order or certificate. Before 1906 the final order was normally recorded in the court's minute or order book, and the court usually issued the new citizen a certificate of naturalization.

Significant changes in the naturalization law were enacted in 1906. Naturalization jurisdiction was restricted to federal and state courts having unlimited civil jurisdiction. (In New York the sole court meeting this definition is the Supreme Court.) Under the 1906 act the U.S. Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, later the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS), examined petitions for naturalization and provided standard forms to courts performing naturalizations. (The forms contain much more personal information than do the non- standardized forms in use before 1906.) After 1929 naturalization forms (declarations, petitions, and certificates) were distributed only to certain courts. In recent decades the U.S. District Courts have handled most naturalization proceedings.

Between 1855 and 1922 an alien woman became a citizen automatically if she married a native- born or naturalized citizen. After 1922 a married woman alien had to obtain naturalization on her own. Non-native minor children become citizens when their parents are naturalized. (All children born in the U.S. are citizens, even if their parents are aliens.) Former black slaves were made citizens by the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868. American Indians were made citizens by federal statutes passed in 1887 and 1924. By a series of statutes and agreements in force from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, aliens from China, Japan, and other East and South Asian countries were barred from becoming citizens. Expedited naturalization proceedings have been available to aliens who are Army veterans, since 1862; Navy veterans, since 1894; and wartime enlistees, since 1918.

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