From the first naturalization law passed by Congress in 1790 through much of the 20th century, an alien could become naturalized in any court of record. In most cases naturalization was a 2 step process that took at least 5 years. After living in the US for 2 years an immigant could file papers of intent, then 3 years later file a petition for naturalization. These papers didn't have to be filed in the same court.
Exceptions to the 2 step process:
- "Derivative" citizenship was granted to wives and minor children of naturalized men. 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.)
- 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. Over 192,000 aliens were naturalized between May 9, 1918, and June 30, 1919, under an act of May 9, 1918, that allowed aliens serving in the U.S. armed forces during "the present war" to file a petition for naturalization without making a declaration of intent or proving 5 years' residence. Laws enacted in 1919, 1926, 1940, and 1952 continued various preferential treatment provisions for veterans.
After 1906, the courts forwarded copies of naturalizations to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Naturalizations from Federal Courts are held in the NARA's regional facilities for the Federal courts for their area. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. holds naturalization records for Federal Courts in Washington, D.C. More information.
Dale L. Edwards