Understanding Naturalization Records as Part of Genealogy

Genealogy is a favorite pastime of many American families and often gives us insight into who we are and what genetic composition we carry. For almost all families, the roots of our ancestry are found in the records of foreign countries and coming across blocks in research are not uncommon. If you are attempting to do your own family history, or genealogy, it is important to become familiar with the process of documenting and obtaining naturalization records for your family especially for families that immigrated from Mexico or Canada.
The process of naturalization simply means the person who resides in the that country becomes a citizen of the country of residency and for many genealogy research processes, the naturalization documents of your family members, when coming to the United States, will hold key bits of information into researching history in other countries.

When researching naturalization records for genealogy purposes, there are many pieces of documentation you will come across. To obtain the clearest picture about your ancestry, it is recommended that you review the documents entitled “declaration of intent” as this is the document that would have been first filed by your ancestors when they wanted to begin the process for U.S. naturalization. Within that initial document, the family member would have stated the country to which they are renouncing.

One disadvantage with naturalization documentation in the United States, in terms of genealogy, involves the lack of history prior to the late 1800’s. Because the United States did not require the documentation of immigrants until the late 1800’s, there are many family histories you will not be able to research if you need data from naturalization documents prior to these dates. However, if your family came into the United States after 1890, there may be naturalization documents that you can review to obtain a clearer picture on the heritage of your family.

While not all genealogy history can be obtained through naturalization papers, there are many key pieces of information you can find within them. When documenting all of your family history information, be sure to document the naturalization records and always look for pieces of information that would provide tips about your ancestry back to the late 1800’s. In doing so, you’ll be one step closer to accurately documenting your family history over the last two centuries. Prior to the 1800s, family records in individual counties and states would have to be analyzed to determine countries of family origin.

Sources: Genealogy Research 101, pp. 56-62.