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 continues until today. Between 1944 and March 31, 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. Beginning April 1, 1956 all records were filed in the A-file including naturalization records for those naturalized after that date. The USCIS is the custodians of the A-Files, and in 2010 began transferring A-files for persons born more than 100 years ago to the San Francisco and Kansas City branches of the National Archives.
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 a naturalization certificate files. See certificate files.
Certificate of arrival: The 1906 naturalization law required the government prove all petitioners who claimed arrival after June 29, 1906, were lawfully admitted immigrants. Each declaration of intention or petition filed prompted the US Bureau of Naturalization to search passenger arrival records and "certify" their results. They did so on a small Certificate of Arrival (C/A) form sent by the Bureau to the court where the naturalization was pending. Many courts filed the C/A's with their naturalization records. The C/A provides the place, date, and manner of arrival and should match the same information shown on the Petition for Naturalization. Immigrants who arrived prior to June 30, 1906 were not subject to the C/A requirement. However, in some cases a C/A will be found for earlier arrivals.
Certificate of citizenship: The document issued to derivative or repatriated US citizens beginning 1929. These certificates are often found in home sources. The Certificate of Citizenship number can be used to request a copy of a C-File from USCIS.
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: The document issued by a naturalization court to a newly naturalized U.S. citizen to prove his citizenship. A certificate stub kept by the court proves the certificate was issued and provides the certificate number. 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. Certificates of Registry were created only for immigrants who arrived prior to 1924 and who applied for Registry proceedings after 1929, usually to facilitate their naturalization.
Collective naturalization: Granting U.S. citizenship 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 Louisiana 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: Technically "derivative citizenship." 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 her husband naturalized while they were married. There was no paperwork created when a person naturalized through derivative naturalization, though after 1906 the naturalization petition and certificate named the wife and any children who would derive from a man's naturalization. After 1929, a certificate of derivative citizenship could be obtained to prove derivative citizenship.
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, this law governs your right to request information created or held by the US Government. Each Federal agency administers its own FOIA program. Most genealogical requests are considered "third party" FOIA requests because the records requested relate to a person other than the requester. Immigrant records created since the 1950's must be requested from the USCIS FOIA Program using Form G-639. Most immigration and naturalization records created up to the 1950s are available from the USCIS Genealogy Program.
Genealogy Program: The USCIS Genealogy Program was set up by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to assist the public obtain copies of post 1906 naturalization and other immigrant 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: All naturalized US citizens are required to take an oath of allegiance [to the US] and renunciation [of former nationality]. Failure to complete the oath voids the naturalization and the moment the oath is taken is the moment citizenship is conferred. The oath dates to the colonial period when used to renounce all former country loyalties. This gave the immigrant full privileges, including voting and holding public office. In the 20th century the oath of allegiance and renunciation became a printed portion of naturalization forms for the new citizen to sign. 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 to the court. 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 but for whom 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 United States Naturalization and Citizenship#Report_and_Registry.2C_1798-1828.
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. It also includes the immigrants birth date, birthplace, and other information. For more details, see the USCIS Web site for 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
- <a href="http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis">United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site</a>.