Naturalization Terms and Acronyms
A-Files: Also known as alien files. See alien files.
AL: Abbreviation found on the U.S. census from 1900 to 1930. It indicates the immigrant had not begun the naturalization process and was still an “alien.”
Alien files: Also known as A-Files. Began on April 1, 1944 and continued until 1956. This file contained all records of an immigrant who had not yet naturalized. If naturalized, the records were transferred to a C-File. It may include applications, visas, photographs and other information. The USCIS are the custodians of the A-Files. However, these files are scheduled to be transferred in 2010 to the San Francisco and Kansas City branches of the National Archives, and can be obtained through them.
Alien Registration Forms: Began in August 1940 with the intent of fingerprinting and documenting all aliens living in the US. 14 and older. These forms contained extensive information about the alien including date of birth, date and port of arrival, occupation, and physical description. To obtain a copy of these forms, order from the USCIS through their Genealogy Program.
C-Files: Also known as certificate files. See certificate files.
Certificate of arrival: After 1906, an immigrant was required to submit a certificate of arrival when he petitioned for citizenship, to prove the length of his residency. This document gives the place of entry, manner of arrival, and the date of arrival. This was kept in the file with the petition.
Certificate of citizenship: Also known as certificate of naturalization. The document given to the newly naturalized U.S. citizen to prove his citizenship. A certificate stub was kept in the court proving the certificate was issued. These certificates are often found in home sources. They often state the court the certificate of issued from, which is also the court where the petition was filed.
Certificate files: Also known as C-Files. Began with the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906. All persons naturalized between 1906 and 1956 have a C-File with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The C-Files include a copy of the declaration, petition, certificate of naturalization, and other documents. Files can be obtained from the USCIS Genealogy Program. For more details, visit the USCIS Web site.
Certificate of naturalization: Also known as certificate of citizenship. The document given to the newly naturalized U.S. citizen to prove his citizenship. A certificate stub is kept in the court proving the certificate was issued. These certificates are often found in home sources. They often state the court the certificate of issued from, which is also the court where the petition was filed.
Certificate of registry: A certificate created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to document immigrants who arrived prior to July 1, 1924 where no original arrival record could not be located.
Collective naturalization: Granting U.S. citzenship to a group of people through an act of Congress. This happened as territories were acquired by the U.S., such as with the Louisiana Purchase. When the Louisiana Purchase took place in 1803, all individuals living in the Louisana Territory automatically became citizens. No individual documents exist in this process. Native Americans became U.S. citizens through collective naturalization in 1924.
Declaration of intention: Also known as "first papers" or intention. The first step in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. The immigrant had to come before a court of record, state his intention to become a citizen of the U.S., and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, or state, sovereignty whereof at the time he may be a citizen or subject. The immigrant could submit his declaration of intention as soon as he arrived to the U.S., but most waited two years.
Denization: A type of naturalization used to obtain land. You could buy and sell land, but could not hold public office. There were no political privileges associated with denization.
Derivative naturalization: Applied to women and children. Children automatically become citizens if their father naturalized. From 1855 to 1922, women became citizens if they married a U.S. citizen, or he naturalized while they were married. There is no paperwork created when a person naturalized through derivative naturalization. In 1929, a certificate of derivative citizenship could be obtained to prove derivative citzenship.
Final papers: Another name for the petition. See petition.
First papers: Another name for declaration of intention. See declaration of intention.
FOIA: Abbreviation for Freedom of Information Act. See Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom of Information Act: Also known as FOIA. It is the form used to obtain naturalization records not included in the Genealogy Program provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Use this form for naturalization records created after 1956. For more information visit the USCIS website.
Genealogy Program: The Genealogy Program was set up by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to assist the public obtain copies of post 1906 naturalization records. There is a $20 fee for the index search. Records are $20 for copies of microfilmed records and $35 for copies of textual records. Genealogy Program FAQ
Immigration and Naturalization Service: Also known as INS. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was created on June 10, 1933 from the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. It was changed to Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) on March 1, 2003 and to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on November 1, 2003.
INS: Also known as Immigration and Naturalization Service. See Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Intention: Nickname for declaration of intention. See declaration of intention.
NA: Abbreviation found on the US censuses from 1900 to 1930. NA signifies that the immigrant had naturalized and was a citizen of the US.
NR: Abbreviation found on the U.S. censuses from 1900 to 1930. NR stands for “not reported.” This was often found on the Soundex cards that index the U.S. Census when the census taker did not report naturalization information on the immigrant on the census page.
Oath of allegiance: This type of naturalization during the colonial period was used to renounce all former country loyalties. This gave the immigrant full privileges, including voting and holding public office. In later years, the oath of allegiance was given to the alien to sign when naturalizing. It can be found on declarations of intention, petitions, and sometimes as a separate form.
PA: Abbreviation found on the US censuses from 1900 to 1930. PA is an abbreviation for "first papers." The alien has filed his declaration of intention, and is in the process of naturalizing.
Petition: Also known as "second papers" or "final papers." The petition was the final naturalization document submitted by the immigrant. From 1790 to 1824 there was a 3 year waiting period before the Petition could be submitted to the court. In 1824, the waiting period changed to 2 years.
Registry files: These files were created for aliens who arrived before 1924, when no arrival record could be found. Registry files contain a certificate of registry, proof of residence, and employment records. These files, dated 1929-1944, can be obtained from the USCIS Genealogy Program.
Report and registry: From 1798 to 1828, a new immigrant was required to appear before a local court and register his arrival in the United States. For more information, click here.
Second papers: Another name for the petition. See petition.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services: Also known as USCIS. Created November 1, 2003 from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The USCIS houses copies of naturalization records created after 1906. Naturalization records before 1956 can be obtained from the USCIS through their Genealogy Program.
USCIS: Abbreviation for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. See United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Visa files: Began with the Immigration Act of 1924. All aliens had to have a visa to enter the United States. Visas had to be obtained at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. Visa files contain birth information, parents, children, previous residence and a photograph. Visa files, 1924-1944, can be obtained through the USCIS Genealogy Program. This is the only naturalization related record that contains parents names. It also includes the immigrants birth date, birthplace, and other information. For more details, see the USCIS Web site for visa files.
Definitions taken from the following resources:
- Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000).
- Newman, John J. American Naturalization Records 1790-1990. (Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1998).
- Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States (Baltimore, MD: Christina K. Schaefer, 1997).
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis. They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Orgins. (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Incorporated, 1998).
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, :Alien Registration Forms on Microfilm, 1940-1944
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.