Naturalization and Related Records

Naturalization and related records help document New York's ethnically and racially diverse population over the past three centuries. The records are useful for family history, because they indicate when immigrant ancestors arrived in America and became naturalized. Since 1790 naturalization proceedings have been a function of the federal government, which may be performed by either a state or federal court. Because of this delegation of responsibility to the states, records relating to naturalization are found in many repositories on several different levels of government federal, state, and local. This leaflet discusses colonial, state, and federal statutes and records that relate to the naturalization of alien residents of New York. It also discusses records of some related government functions; reception of immigrants by customs and immigration authorities; enablement of aliens to own land; and legal change of name of individuals.

Naturalization and Denization in the Colonial Period

Naturalization is a grant of the full legal rights and privileges of a native-born individual to a non-native foreigner. In England, in the American colonies, and in the United States, naturalization has been granted by special legislative act, or by court proceedings authorized by legislation. The Assembly of New York Colony occasionally passed acts naturalizing aliens. In addition, under a British statute of 1740, an alien who had resided in a colony for at least seven years could be naturalized by swearing an oath of allegiance before a local magistrate. (It should be noted that immigrants from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were not considered aliens, because they were already subjects of the British crown.)

During the early colonial period denization was employed to grant to an alien some, but not all, of the rights of a native-born individual. Typically the denized individual could buy and own land, but could not inherit or devise (transmit by will) title to real property. Denization was granted by letters patent of denization (issued either in London or New York); there were no such letters issued in New York after 1708.

Information on persons naturalized or denized during the British colonial period is abstracted in Kenneth Scott and Kenn Stryker-Rodda, comps., Denizations, Naturalizations, and Oaths of Allegiance in Colonial New York (Baltimore: 1975). Scott abstracted data from a variety of published and archival sources, among them two record series in the State Archives: Deeds ( Miscellaneous Records ) (series A0453) and Letters Patent (series 12943; formerly A0450). The Archives can supply photocopies of naturalization documents in these series, but needs the citation from Scott to make the search. Assembly acts naturalizing aliens, either collectively (1683, 1715) or individually (1718 and after) are found in Colonial Laws of New York, 5 vols. (Albany: 1894), and are indexed in Scott.

Naturalization under State Law (1777-1790)

The New York State Constitution of 1777 (Art. 42) authorized the Legislature to naturalize aliens. A few legislative acts of naturalization were passed between 1782 and 1789. They are found in Laws of the State of New York [1777- 1800], 4 vols. (Albany: 1886-87). There is no name index to these naturalizations performed under State law.

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.

Naturalization Records in the National Archives at New York City

The National Archives at New York City holds the older naturalization records from federal courts in New York, as well as photographic copies of naturalization records from state and federal courts in the counties now comprising New York City and from state courts in two upstate counties. Following is a summary of the National Archives' holdings of naturalization records for New York State, along with microfilm copies of indexes:

  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), 1824-1940; U.S. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, 1846-76, 1906-11 (alphabetical name index to petitions on 294 microfilm rolls, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1674).
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn), 1865-1957 (alphabetical name index to petitions on 142 microfilm rolls, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1164).
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York (Utica), 1821-55, 1906.
  • U.S. District Court, Western District of New York (Buffalo), 1907-66 (alphabetical name index to petitions on 20 microfilm rolls, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1677).
  • State and federal courts in New York, Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties, 1792-1906 (photographic copies; Soundex index to petitions on 294 microfilm rolls, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1674).
  • State courts in Essex County, NY, 1799-1879, and Clinton County, NY, 1895-1906 (photographic copies; no indexes; chronological order).

NOTE: The earliest records were abstracted in Naturalizations in Federal Courts, New York District, 1790-1828, comp. Mrs. Edward J. Chapin, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 97 (1966), passim.

NOTE: Courts whose naturalization records were copied include U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts, U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District; the New York City and County court of common pleas; the New York City Superior Court and Marine Court; the New York State Supreme Court sitting in New York County; the Brooklyn City Court; and the Queens and Richmond county courts. For abstracts of the earlier records, see Kenneth Scott, comp., Early New York Naturalizations: Abstracts of Naturalization Records from Federal, State, and Local Courts, 1792-1840 (Baltimore: 1981); "New York City Naturalizations, 1795-1799," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 71 (1983), 280-83; Naturalizations in the Marine Court, New York City, 1827-1835 (New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Collections, vol. 13) (New York: 1990); and Naturalizations in the Marine Court . . ., 1834- 1840 (same, vol. 15) (New York: 1991).

The National Archives at New York City will search for and photocopy naturalization records (or copies thereof) in its custody. For a search request form, contact: National Archives at New York City, One Bowling Green, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10004; telephone (212) 401-1620. Records of naturalizations performed in recent decades by U.S. District Courts located in New York, Brooklyn, Albany, and Buffalo are stored at the New York Federal Records Center in Bayonne, NJ. Contact the U.S. District Court clerk's office for further information.

Naturalization Records at the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service

The U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service holds duplicate copies of naturalization documents filed after September 26, 1906. Inquiries and requests for a search form should be addressed to: U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 425 Eye Street NW, Washington, DC 20536; telephone (800) 870- 3676.

Naturalization Records in County Clerks' Offices

New York State courts that performed naturalizations during the nineteenth century included the county courts of common pleas (pre-1847); the county courts (post-1847); the Court of Chancery; the Supreme Court; the higher city courts in New York, Brooklyn, Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo; and (rarely) the county surrogate's courts. After 1906 only the New York Supreme Court could perform naturalizations, and in most counties it has ceased doing so. The county clerks' offices are the custodians of naturalization records created by all New York State courts (except for the Supreme Court and the Court of Chancery before July 1, 1847). The fullest guide to naturalization records held by the county clerks is Ralph Roberts, comp., Naturalization Records in New York State (New York State Council of Genealogical Organizations Publication no. 1) (Syracuse: 1996). Other lists of naturalization records in New York are provided by James C. Neagles and Lila Lee Neagles, Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records, rev. ed. (Logan, UT: 1986), pp. 111-13; and George K. Schweitzer, New York Genealogical Research (Knoxville, TN: 1988), pp. 203-52. Older naturalization records in most of the county clerks' offices have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Albany County and City naturalization records for the period 1821-1978 are in custody of: Albany County Hall of Records, 95 Tivoli Street, Albany, NY 12207.

Naturalization Records in the State Archives

The New York State Archives holds only a few hundred naturalization documents. All were performed by the higher state courts operating before 1847: the Supreme Court of Judicature (at terms held in Albany, ca. 1799-1812, and in Utica, ca. 1830-38) (record series J5011, J9013); and the Court of Chancery (mostly during the period ca. 1830-47 in the court's fifth, sixth, and eighth circuits, located in central and western New York) (J1061).

Also in the State Archives are county clerks' reports of persons naturalized in New York County (specifically the portion of the county comprising the First Judicial District, including Manhattan Island but excluding future Bronx County), 1896-1906 (series B0078); Kings County (Brooklyn), 1897-1900 (series B0079); and Erie County (including Buffalo), 1896 only (series B0080). These reports are arranged by year, then by name of person naturalized. The only personal information given is name, address, and date of naturalization.

These naturalization records and reports in the State Archives are not indexed, and Archives staff will not search them for individual names unless the name of person and the date, place, and court of naturalization are specified.

Immigration Records

Reception and supervision of immigrants are functions of the federal government, specifically the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service or their predecessor agencies. Customs passenger lists (1820-97) and immigration passenger lists (1896-1957) for immigrants arriving at New York City (and partial indexes to the lists) are held by the National Archives; most of the lists are available on microfilm. There are numerous published lists of ship passengers and immigrants who arrived in New York City and other ports prior to the twentieth century. See bibliography.

Between 1848 and 1890 the New York State Commissioners of Emigration (so-called) were responsible for the reception of immigrants entering New York City. The commissioners conducted medical inspections of immigrants, and they regulated port vessels, boarding houses, railroad agents, and other businesses dealing with immigrants. After 1855 the commissioners operated an immigrant reception center at Castle Garden in lower Manhattan, under contract with the Federal government. (This facility was the predecessor to Ellis Island, opened in 1892.) The published annual reports of the Commissioners of Emigration are available in the State Library. However, the records of the commissioners are not in the State Archives or the National Archives, and are presumed to have been destroyed.

Records of Aliens Enabled to Own Real Property

The New York State Legislature passed hundreds of special acts enabling individual aliens to acquire, hold, and dispose of title to real property. These acts date from the late 1780s through the early 1870s; however, relatively few of them date after 1830. A general name index to most of them is found in General Index of the Documents and Laws of the State of New-York (Albany: 1842), pp. 198- 233; updated editions of the index to laws (including references to acts enabling individual aliens to hold real property) were published in 1850, 1859, and 1866. Names of persons enabled to own land by legislative acts passed between 1790 and 1825 are abstracted in Kenneth Scott, comp., Resident Aliens Enabled to Hold Land in New York State 1790-1825, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 67 (March 1979), 42-57.

Between 1825 and 1913 a simpler, alternate proceeding was available to enable aliens to acquire, own, and dispose of real property: the alien made a deposition of intent to become a citizen and filed it in the Secretary of State's office in Albany. The alien's rights in regard to real property expired six years after filing the deposition. The so-called alien depositions, now in the State Archives, typically give name of alien, date and place of deposition, and sometimes the country of origin. A few of the earlier depositions give additional information, such as place of residence in New York, date of entry into the United States, and marital status of a woman (married, single, or widowed). After the mid-nineteenth century many of the alien depositions (up to one third of the total) were made by women. (Statutes passed between 1848 and 1862 allowed married women in New York to own real property in their own names.)

The original signed alien depositions (series A1869) are bound into books and arranged roughly chronologically (1825-1913). These documents are not indexed. The earlier depositions are abstracted in Kenneth Scott and Rosanne Conway, comps. New York Alien Residents, 1825-1848 (Baltimore: 1978). Abstracts of alien depositions (series A1870) were compiled from the original depositions and state the name of the alien, sometimes the residence, and the date and place of the deposition. No other data is included. The abstracts are arranged by assigned consecutive numbers. There is a three-volume index to the abstracts (series A1898). The index is actually multiple indexes for individual volumes or periods of years.

Because there is no comprehensive index to the depositions, State Archives staff will not search the records for individual names. The alien depositions (series A1869), the abstracts thereof (series A1870), and the indexes to the abstracts (series A1898) are available for use at the State Archives. Photocopying will be restricted if a record is in poor condition.

A guide to genealogical use of records relating to land ownership by aliens is Gordon L. Remington, Alien Landowners in New York State, 1790-1913, The Irish at Home and Abroad: A Newsletter of Irish Genealogy and Heritage, 1:4 (Spring 1994), 8-9.

Records of Name Changes

Many immigrants to New York legally changed their names in order to simplify the spelling, or to adopt an American -sounding name. Prior to 1875 a change in a personal name could be accomplished through a special act of the Legislature. In addition, an 1847 statute authorized a court proceeding for the same purpose. Any person over age 21 could petition a county-level court to issue an order changing his or her name.

Starting in 1861 and continuing through 1912, lists of names changed by the courts (stating the old and new names, date of change, and court ordering the change) were published in the annual session laws of the Legislature. The court order changing a personal name is recorded in the county clerk's office in the county where the person resides. The name changes published in the session laws are indexed in each volume. Name changes by the Legislature and the courts are also listed in General Index to the Laws of the State of New York, 1777-1901 (Albany: 1902), vol. 2, pp. 1309-87; and in a supplement for period 1902- 1907 (Albany: 1908), pp. 469-567. The State Archives holds the lists of name changes filed in the Secretary of State's Office for the period 1899-1940 (series B0070; not indexed). Orders for name changes filed in the New York County Clerk's Office are abstracted in Kenneth Scott, comp., Petitions for Name Changes in New York City, 1848-1899 (National Genealogical Society Special Publication no. 53) (Washington: 1984). Legislative name changes are abstracted by John Austin, comp., "Early Changes of Name in New York", New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 127 (1996), 137-42 et seq.

New York State Archives Record Series Cited

Below is a listing of records cited in the descriptions above. This guide is meant for quick reference. The researcher should carefully read the brief descriptions of record series in this leaflet. Fuller descriptions are available in the Archives' finding aids.

Secretary of State's Office

A0453 Record of Deeds (Miscellaneous Records, 1652-1884 (43 vols.)

12943 Letters Patent, 1664+ (apx. 40 c.f.)

A1869 Alien Depositions of Intent to Become U.S. Citizens, 1825-1913 (92 vols.)

A1870 Abstracts of Alien Depositions, 1825-1913 (33 vols.)

A1898 Index to Alien Depositions (3 vols.)

B0078 Supreme Court (First Judicial District) Record of Naturalizations, 1896-1906 (11 vols.)

B0079 Registers of Kings County Clerk of Naturalizations, 1897-1900 (3 vols.)

B0080 Report of the Erie County Clerk of Naturalizations, 1896 (1 vol.)

B0070 Annual Reports of Name Changes of Corporations and Individuals, 1899-1940 (1 c.f.)

Supreme Court of Judicature

J5011 Naturalization Papers (Albany), 1799-1812 (.2 c.f.)

J9013 Naturalization Papers (Utica), 1822, 1838-39 (.2 c.f.)

Court of Chancery

J1061 Naturalization Papers (5th, 6th, and 8th Circuits), ca. 1830-47 (1 c.f.)


This bibliography does not include citations to published works mentioned earlier in this leaflet.

General Works

Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny, eds., The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (Salt Lake City: 1984). (Comprehensive guide to genealogical research; see Tracking Immigrant Origins, pp. 452-517.)

Marcia Eisenberg, Immigration and Naturalization Records as Genealogical Sources, Tree Talks [newsletter of Central New York Genealogical Society], 21:1 (March 1981), 3-13.

James H. Kettner, The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 (Chapel Hill, NC: 1978). (Technical monograph on constitutional and legal aspects of naturalization.)

James C. Neagles and Lila Lee Neagles, Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records, rev. ed. (Logan, UT: 1986).

John J. Newman, American Naturalization Processes and Procedures, 1790-1985 (Indianapolis: 1985). (Detailed guide to naturalization laws and forms.)

Michael Tepper, American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam (Baltimore: 1988).

U.S. National Archives & Records Service. Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (Washington: 1982).

Guides to ship passenger arrivals:

Carl Boyer, 3d, ed., Ship Passenger Lists: New York and New Jersey (1600-1825) (Newhall, CA: 1978).

John P. Colletta, "Tips on Ships: Searching New York Passenger Arrivals, 1847-1896," Genealogical Helper, 48:4 (July-Aug. 1994), 6-8.

Diane Snyder Ptak, A Passage in Time: The Ships that Brought Our Ancestors 1620-1940 (Albany: 1992).

Bradley W. Steuart, Passenger Ships Arriving in New York Harbor [1 vol. to date, covering 1820-50] (Bountiful, UT: 1991+).

Published bibliographies and abstracts of ship passenger or immigrant lists (pre- or non-Federal):

Harold Lancour, Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists, 1538-1825; Being a Guide to Published Lists of Early Immigrants to North America (New York: 1963), completely revised as Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900, ed. P. William Filby (Detroit: 1981; 2d ed. 1988).

Diane Snyder Ptak, A Compilation of American and Canadian Passenger/Emigration Registers (Albany: 1993).

Michael Tepper, ed., Immigrants to the Middle Colonies: A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists and Associated Data . . . (Baltimore: 1978).

Published lists of immigrants from various European nations, mostly compiled from federal records:


Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, 4 vols. (Richardson, TX: 1983-91).


Gary J. Zimmerman and Marion Wolfert, German Immigrants: Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York . . ., 4 vols. [1847-71] (Baltimore: 1985-93).

Trudy Schenk and Ruth Froelke, The Wuerttemberg Emigration Index [6 vols. to date] (Salt Lake City: 1986+).

Ira A. Glazier and P. William Filby, Germans to America: Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports [38 vols. to date, covering 1850-81] (Wilmington, DE: 1988+).


Mary Voultsos, Greek Immigrant Passengers, 1885-1910, 3 vols. (Worcester, MA: 1991).


Ira A. Glazier, ed., The Famine Immigrants: Lists of Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York, 1846-1851, 7 vols. (Baltimore: 1983-86).

Brian Mitchell, Irish Passenger Lists 1847-1871 (Baltimore: 1988).


Ira A. Glazier and P. William Filby, Italians to America: Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports [4 vols. to date, covering 1880-90] (Wilmington, DE: 1992+).


Robert P. Swierenga, Dutch Immigrants in U.S. Ship Passenger Manifests, 1820-1880, 2 vols. (Wilmington, DE: 1983).


Nils W. Olsson, Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York, 1820-1850 (Chicago: 1967); Additions and Corrections (St. Paul: 1979).