That’s a good question! Your ancestor could naturalize in ANY court that performed naturalization. The court could be a county court, federal court, or one of many other courts. And it didn’t stop there. The immigrant could declare in one city, and then 2 to 3 years later finish the naturalization process in another court across the United States. Remember, the alien usually chose the closest and most convenient court. I have seen immigrants that live in New Jersey submit their naturalization records in New York City where they worked. There was no law stating that the immigrants had to use their local county courthouse. If they lived on the border of the county and found that the courthouse in the next county was closer, they could naturalize there. Don’t get bogged down with jurisdictions and county or state boundaries.
Before you start searching for the declaration and the petition, both records being necessary to complete the naturalization process, make a timeline of localities where your ancestor lived in the United States. Once you know when and where your ancestor lived, begin methodically to search for the records.
Immigrants submitted their declaration of intention often 1 or 2 years after they entered the country. Search in all the courts that were naturalizing in the place they lived. That includes looking for a federal court if they don’t show up in the county court. Use Christina Schaeffer’s Guide to Naturalization Records to help you determine what courts were naturalizing in your time period and locality.
The law stated that the immigrant had to live in the US for 5 years before submitting his petition, the final step to naturalize. Therefore, search for the naturalization records where your ancestor was living about 5 years after he came into the U.S.
Remember to look for name variations, especially if your immigrant’s last name was difficult to pronounce. Your ancestor could have also used the given name he was born with or the name he was using in the U.S. Be sure to check both.
If you can’t find him in the naturalization records in the first 5 years he was here, he may have naturalized later in life. Check each place your ancestor lived for both the declaration and petition. Don’t forget to use the US Census if he lived after 1900. It will give you his naturalization status. See the previous blog article for more information.
Naturalization records can be a tough record to locate, but with persistence and checking all the possible courts in all the places your ancestor lived, they often can be located.
For more information on United States naturalization and how to find naturalization records, see the “United States Naturalization and Citizenship” article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.