United States naturalization records are one of the most misunderstood and difficult to find record types for genealogists to tackle in United States research. Before 1906, these records are inconsistent in what they contain and can be very cumbersome to locate. Because of that, some have asked me why they should bother. My answer has always been, because you never know what a naturalization record MAY contain!
My first piece of advice is to use other genealogical resources before jumping into the world of naturalization. The information you are seeking may be in other records. For example, the death record or obituary may contain the name of the town where your ancestor was born in the old country, or you may find your ancestor on a ship manifest, which will show when he came to America.
However, sometimes the answers can’t be found in other records, and that’s when we turn to naturalization records. It’s important to remember that naturalization, the process of becoming a citizen of a new country, has never been required of immigrants who settled in America. Some immigrants started the process, but never finished it. Before looking for your ancestor in naturalization records, you should always look for evidence that he did change allegiance from his former country to the United States.
Begin your search at home by looking for evidence indicating your ancestor naturalized. Is there a certificate of naturalization? This certificate proved to the world that your ancestor was now a citizen of the U.S. If you have one, you know he naturalized. Is there a U.S. passport? They were only given to U.S. citizens, thus indicating naturalization.
Search for your ancestor in every census during his lifetime. If, according to family tradition, your ancestor came to the U.S. when he was 5 years old and he was born in 1885, you would search the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. Pay particular attention to the 1920 census. It not only includes alien status, whether immigrants had begun or finished the naturalization process, but when applicable, it includes the year they naturalized. The 1920 census is the only census that gives the year of naturalization.
If you find these records indicating your ancestor naturalized, you can then begin the hunt for his naturalization record. For more information on how to locate naturalization records, visit our FamilySearch Wiki Web site at https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/United_States_Naturalization_and_Citize…