US Naturalization

Americans encouraged relatively free and open immigration during the 1700s and early 1800s. After certain states passed immigration laws following the Civil War, the Supreme Court in 1875 declared regulation of immigration a federal responsibility.

The process usually consisted of 3 steps:
1) Declaration of Intent
2) Petition
3) Oath.

The laws governing the waiting period and the required length of residency varied over the years. The types of courts have also varied but may include the county, supreme, circuit, district, equity, chancery, probate, or common pleas court, U.S. district court or the U.S. circuit court.

Wives – From 1790 to 1922, wives of naturalized men automatically became citizens. This also meant that an alien woman who married a U.S. citizen automatically became a citizen. (Conversely, an American woman who married an alien lost her U.S. citizenship, even if she never left the United States.)

Children – From 1790 to 1940, children under the age of 21 automatically became naturalized citizens upon the naturalization of their father. Unfortunately, however, names and biographical information about wives and children are rarely included in declarations or petitions filed before September 1906


– From 1824 to 1906, minor aliens who had lived in the United States 5 years before their 23rd birthday could file both their declarations and petitions at the same time.
– An 1862 law allowed honorably discharged Army veterans of any war to petition for naturalization–without previously having filed a declaration of intent–after only 1 year of residence in the United States.
– An 1894 law extended the same no-previous-declaration privilege to honorably discharged 5-year veterans of the Navy or Marine Corps.

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1790 – This article of legislation allowed an individual to apply for citizenship if they were a free white person, being of good character, and living in the United States for two years.

Naturalization at this time was a two-step process that took a minimum of 5 years. After residing in the United States for 2 years (1 year being in the state of residence), an alien could file a “declaration of intent” (so-called “first papers”) to become a citizen. After 3 additional years, the alien could “petition for naturalization.” After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court. As a general rule, the “declaration of intent” generally contains more genealogically useful information than the “petition.” The “declaration” may include the alien’s month and year (or possibly the exact date) of immigration into the United States.

1795 – Any free white person could recieve citizenship providing they had renounced their allegiance to their previous state/sovereignty by name, lived in the United States for five years at least, behave as a man of good moral character, and renounced any title they possessed in the previous states. Once the applicant had been approved and recorded by the court clerk, all related children would receive citizenship whether they had been born in or outside the U.S. providing their father had at some point, resided in the U.S., and never been legally convicted of joining the army of Great Britain.

1798 – Section 1 required applicants for citizenship to have declared intention to becoming a citizen five years prior to applicatoin, and lived in the United States 14 years when the application was admitted. This act was to be implemented on all new aliens providing they were no longer subjects of any nation the U.S. was at war with at the time of application.

1798 Alien Enemies Act – This act had the following prerequisites to take effect: The United States had to be in a declared war with a foreign nation or government, or have experienced an invasion or predatory incursion attempted by any foreign nation or government, and such action must have been acknowledged by the President of the United States. If such actions took place, then any male citizens aged fourteen or older of the hostile nation or government that had not been naturalized were subject to deportation or imprisonment. They would be regarded as alien enemies. If they were not charged with any violations of public safety, they would be given a certain amount of time to leave the country.

1798 Alien Friends Act – This act allowed the President at any time to order any aliens he deemed dangerous to be deported. This included suspicion of treason or spying. If the alien stayed in the country, they could be imprisoned for three years, and never be allowed to become a citizen of the USA. The President could also issue a license to such an alien, granting them temporary residency in the USA. This act also required the declaration by ships entering US ports of any aliens they might have on board. This act was approved for two years from its passing date.


1868 – All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. (This included slaves)


1870 – The naturalization process was opened to persons of African descent


1882 – Chinese were not allowed to emigrate to America for 10 years.

1882 – Congress passed a new Immigration Act that stated a 50 cents tax would be levied on all aliens landing at United States ports. An act in which the State Commission and officers were in charge of checking the passengers upon incoming vessels arriving in the U.S. The passengers were examined by a set of exclusionary criteria. Upon examination passengers who appeared to be convicts, lunatics, idiots or unable to take care of themselves were not permitted onto land.

1887 – American Indians who accepted allotments and lived separately from the tribe would be granted United States citizenship


1891 – Upon arrival to the United States each individual was inspected by the Commanding Officer or agents. The immigrants were required to supply their name, nationality, last residence, and where they were planning to go in the States. They were not allowed entry to the land until they supplied the necessary information. Once on land they had to submit themselves to a medical examination. If any diseases were found they were immediately sent to quarantine or sent back to their country of origin. If an immigrant entered into the United States illegally they were sent back to their home country on the ship in which they arrived. If an immigrant came illegally it was the responsibility of the shipping company to take them back at their own expense as well as pay a fine of $300 per offense.

Documents – Prior to 1906, the Declaration and Petition had very little info. Some things you might find are their Name, Age, Country of Origin and maybe if your lucky, a date and port of arrival.


1906 – The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was established to standardize the process of becoming a citizen

– A certificate of arrival is issued for those who arrived after 1906.
– Declaration of Intent now has more info like Name, Occupation, Physical Description, Place of Birth, Date of Birth, Port of Departure, Vessel, Last Residence, Port of Arrival, Date of Arrival.
– Petition includes the same info as well as info about the wife and kids like place/date of birth.


1917 – Puerto Ricans became US citizens

– Same type of info as the 1900s


1922 – Women became separate from their husbands applications.

– Same type of info as the previous years
– Around 1925 you start seeing more Declaration of Intents and Petitions being typed, making them easier to read.


– Same type of info as the previous years
– Around 1930 you start seeing pictures attatched to the Declaration of Intent
– Also a new line on the Petition asks for the name the person arrived under, sometimes this differs greatly from their current name or it was an alias altogether.


1940 – Alien registration Act required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government.

– Same type of info as the previous years
– In 1941 a new version of the Declaration of Intent and Petition forms started being used.


– Same type of info as the previous years
– Now seeing a more compact form, there no longer seems to be the Certificate of Arrival or the Declaration of Intent.