Since 1790, all naturalizations have been performed pursuant to federal law, under a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 8). According to the federal naturalization laws, any court of record within the United States had the power to conduct naturalization proceedings. These proceedings usually involved five steps. (Registry) Between 1798 and 1828, those aliens who wished to become United States citizens were required to register with the Clerk of the District Court (or other court) where the alien or aliens arrived. For many Atlantic states' courts, the registry was separate from the declaration of intention. The Declaration of Intention was an affirmation of an alien's intent to renounce his allegiance to his native county and monarch. Certificates of both the registry and declaration were issued when an alien moved. If this declaration was issued between 1798-1828, the genealogist should review Pennsylvania court records and seek the corresponding report and registry record. The registry requirement was repealed by an act on May 24, 1828 but by the late 1820s, the registry and declaration were frequently united as one document. After a waiting period of three years, later reduced to two years, the alien could enter any court in the country, produce a copy of the declaration, prove that he had resided in the United States for a period of not less than five years, have a person vouch for his character, and present a petition for full citizenship. This paper is known as the Naturalization Petition. If the petitioner fulfilled all of these obligations, the court would issue an order granting citizenship, based upon the petition and oath of allegiance. After this process was complete, a certificate was issued to the petitioner. The court would not retain a copy of the actual Certificate of Citizenship. This belonged to the newly enfranchised citizen.
The Pennsylvania State Archives holds naturalization records for the Supreme Court from 1793 to 1868. Individuals who wish information about citizenship elsewhere during the years 1868 - 1906 should send their inquiries to the clerk of the federal, state, county or municipal court that issued the naturalization certificate or where the individual resided.
Significant changes in the naturalization law were enacted in 1906. Naturalization jurisdiction was restricted to federal and state courts having unlimited civil jurisdiction. Under the 1906 act the U.S. Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, later the Immigration & Naturalization Service, examined petitions for naturalization and provided standard forms to courts performing naturalizations. After 1929, naturalization forms 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 became citizens when their parents were naturalized. Former black slaves were made citizens by the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868. Expedited naturalization proceedings have been available to aliens who are Army veterans, since 1862; Navy veterans, since 1894; and wartime enlistees, since 1918.
The U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service holds duplicate copies of naturalization documents filed after September 26, 1906. Inquiries and requests for search form should be addressed to: U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 425 Eye Street NW, Washington, DC 20536; telephone (800) 870-3676.
Declarations of Intention
The first or second document of the citizenship/naturalization process is known as the Declaration of Intention. When first developed in Philadelphia, this document would provide such information helpful for genealogical pursuits. Generally, the information contained within the Declaration had the date of the declaration, name, birthplace, birthdate, and approximate age of the declarant, nativity, name of the monarch, port of embarkation, port and date of arrival, and declarant's signature or mark.
Between 1828 and 1838, the various courts abandoned this form in lieu of a shorter form which has only the date of the declaration, name and approximate age of the declarant, nativity, name of monarch, and declarant's signature or mark.
The declarations starting in 1906 contain the following information: name, occupation; age; description, including color, complexion, height, weight, hair color, eye color, other marks; birthplace; birthdate; place or residence; port and vessel of embarkation; foreign residence; name of monarch; port and date of arrival; signature or mark of declarant; and date of declaration.
Under an Act of 17 July 1862, persons serving in the United States armies (the Union forces during the Civil War), only had to present their honorable discharge and reside in the country for a period of only one year, not five, in order to file for naturalization. This law was intended only for army veterans - navy and marine veterans were not covered under this law, but under a similar law passed on 26 July 1894.
Petitions for Naturalizations
The petition for naturalization, important as proof of your ancestor's successful bid to become a citizen of the United States, contains no genealogical information before 1906. It will state the date and court before which the applicant made his declaration, the applicant's desire to become a citizen, a voucher from an existing citizens to the applicant's moral character, date of the petition, and the applicant's signature or mark.
After 1906, the petition for naturalization provides the following information: name; address; occupation; birthdate; birthplace; emigration date and port; port and date of arrival; date and court of declaration; name, age and birthplace of wife, if any; name, birthdates and birthplaces of children, if any; affidavits of petitioner and witnesses; oath of allegiance; order of court admitting petitioner; and number and date of certificate of naturalization.
And at no time in American history did a person have to return to the same court in which he filed his declaration of intent in order to file his petition of naturalization. One will find in the petition files of the various court declarations taken before courts from Maine to California.
During the 19th century, the only reason for an alien to become a citizen was in order to achieve the right to vote. He (or she) did not need to become a citizen in order to buy or sell property, hold a job, get married, or to do anything of a personal or social nature. Many aliens lived most of their lives in this country and never began and /or completed the process of naturalization. This connection between naturalization and the franchise explains why the majority of petitions are filed in the weeks just before the primary or general election. It also explains why very few women bothered to become citizens on their own.
Naturalizations after 1881
Although the published indexes quit at 1880, the naturalization process continued. The Philadelphia City and county courts continued to perform naturalization ceremonies until 1897. There are no records from 1898-1913, as the local courts did not naturalize during the period. From 1914 until 1930, the Quarter Sessions Court resumed naturalization proceedings. There have been no naturalizations at the local level in Philadelphia since 1930. Most naturalizations which have occurred since 1897 were done in the United States District and Circuit Courts. Please contact the National Archives, Mid-Atlantic Regional Branch, 9th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, PA, 19107 (215) 597-3000 for instructions on researching those records.