If you are researching when your ancestors arrived in the U.S., it’s important to know what documents were available to show immigration status. Although it’s possible your forefathers didn’t become naturalized citizens, meaning they were granted citizenship, it’s wise to check records to gain family insights.
Before the break with Great Britain, immigrants to what is now the U.S. were considered subjects of the crown. In 1776, every man, woman and child, excluding Native Americans and African Americans, were granted “collective” citizenship. No documents exist to state that status, however. It was a right earned by merely being in the country at the time it separated from Great Britain.
Between 1776-1789, an immigrant who purchased land could become a citizen through denization. Check land records, if available. Citizens who became naturalized through denization, however, could not hold public office. An “oath of allegiance” was required to obtain voting rights and to hold a public office. Oaths were recorded in court records. Even if your relative did not seek naturalization, they were required by law to report to the nearest court and register that they were residing in the country. Check Report and Registry logs between 1798-1828.
Although the laws changed between 1790-1906, typically 3 steps must have been completed for an individual to be considered naturalized. After having a Declaration of Intention filed with the local court, a final petition 1-2 years later would need to be submitted in a court in the nearest town. You may have to check various towns as settlers could complete the paperwork where they currently resided. After the petition was accepted, a Certificate of Naturalization was provided by the local court.
Prior to 1906, immigration records were not as complete as in later years. Only the country of origin and not the city/town may have been listed as people were on the move. Typically, parent information was excluded but you may get lucky. For these later records, you will need to file a request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Prepare for a long wait – I have had to wait over a year to obtain my grandparents paperwork but it was well worth it. The photo alone was a gem!