Cumberland County Naturalization Index
A Summary For Genealogy Researchers
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Know that not all alien residents were naturalized. Many aliens lived their lives as positive contributors to their community and new nation without formally acquiring citizenship. Some states' constitutions permitted aliens who filed declarations of intention ownership of land. Many thought they were citizens through their parent or spouse, while others found lack of citizenship no hindrance to living their private lives. From 1798-1828 aliens were often listed in a Report and Registry of Aliens, separate from or combined with their Declaration of Intention. Researchers should examine records of the courts at port of entry or of different courts surrounding the one where the declaration was filed. The alien also may have filed his registry at about the same time he filed his declaration. Remember, the law required that both a registry and declaration had to be filed and recorded before granting a naturalization petition.
The naturalization process required five distinct procedures:
(1) Report and Registry of Aliens, 1798-1828, separate from or combined with a
(2) Declaration of Intention (DI)
(3) Petition for Naturalization (Nat)
(4) Order of Court granting citizenship, based upon the petition and oath of allegiance
(5) Certificate of Naturalization
The first step did not always occur at the same time or in the same court as did the filing of the declaration. The descriptive contents of the declaration varied extensively. Some courts created ledgers for "final papers" or granted petitions. The court's order was always recorded in the court's proceedings, or official records, as a minute or order book. This was, of course, the purpose of having naturalization proceedings occur in a court of record, to create a permanent memorial of an alien's naturalization. After the process was complete, the certificate was issued to the petitioner. To be successful, researchers must understand each step and the information required and search until they find documentation of each procedure.
If you're not sure your ancestor became a US citizen, there are several ways to obtain this information:
- the 1900 and 1910 censuses ask if a person is naturalized and 1920 further asks the
year of naturalization. Indirectly, the 1820 and 1830 census provide a clue with the question
"number of foreigners in each household not naturalized".
(2) Homesteading Land
- The person had to have initiated the naturalization process to
be eligible for free land through homesteading.
(3) Voter Registration Lists
- Is he/she listed as a voter?
- Did this person hold a job that required U.S. citizenship?
Even with the above information, keep in mind the following issues:
-Not all foreign born individuals applied for citizenship and a child born abroad is still a
US citizen if his/her parents are. During much of our history, the wife and children automatically
became citizens when the husband/father took out citizenship papers.
-Naturalization was one of many census questions. The person who provided the answer may
not have known in fact if someone else had been naturalized. An individual may have said yes
because he felt it was the right thing to say or he intended to begin the process.
-A Declaration of Intent, not final papers, was all that was required to homestead.
-Not everyone who became a citizen registered to vote. Also, some states allowed people who
had filed a Declaration of Intent to vote even if they had not received their final papers.
Prior to 1906, naturalization could take place in any court having common law jurisdiction.
The court could be federal, state, or local. There is no predicting what you might find in naturalization papers prior to 1906.