Naturalization is the process by which an immigrant voluntarily becomes an American citizen. When doing a search of naturalization records, there are some important tips to guide your research. Where the records will be found depends on when and where the naturalization documents were issued, and several other key factors.
Whether you are doing genealogy research or planning to apply for Italian citizenship, naturalization records can help you find the date, ship and port of arrival, and the place of birth for your Italian ancestor. How much information is available will depend on these specifics.
Where Can I Find Official Copies of Naturalization Records?
Prior to 1906, and in some cases for a short period afterwards, naturalization proceedings took place in local, municipal, or state court systems. After 1906, federal courts took responsibility for reviewing and granting United States citizenship, continuing until 1991, when the INS took responsibility.
The 2-step process began when an “alien” filed a declaration of intent to gain citizenship. After a period of time, usually 3 years, the immigrant or foreign national was able to petition for naturalization. This petition was reviewed in court, and if granted, a formal certificate of citizenship would be issued. When issued from a Federal court, there is a good chance that the declaration of intention, petition for naturalization, and certificate of naturalization can be found in the National Archives.
There is more than one National Archive facility, each serving different states. There is no central index, so vital records searches must be directed to the correct facility or query all facilities to be complete. In most cases, the certificate was sent to the newly naturalized citizen and Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in turn oversees all INS records from September 27th, 1906 forward. After April 1st, 1956, the filing system changed from Certificate Files (C-Files) to Alien Files (A-Files). Individuals who are seeking their own naturalization documents can file with the USCIS under the Freedom of Information Act.
Locating the Naturalization Documentation You Need for Dual Citizenship
Locating the naturalization certificate of your family member who was born in Italy can be challenging in light of all these possible search locations. When applying for dual citizenship, the Italian Consulate may require an apostille of a copied document from the National Archives. The Archives can issue certified copies only, so if an apostille is required, this is obtained from the US Department of State.
If no naturalization record can be found, it is still possible to apply for Italian citizenship in many cases, with a Certification of Non-Existence of a Record of Naturalization. Again, the National Archive can issue a “negative search letter” which indicates that they do not possess a record of naturalization for your ancestor, but only the USCIS can issue the certification of non-existence.
Navigating the Historical Records and Citizenship Process
Locating the naturalization document for your Italian ancestor is important because in order for you to apply for Italian citizenship by descent, your ancestor must not have completed naturalization before their direct descendant was born. For example, if your grandmother was born in Italy, and your father was born before she became an American citizen, then it is quite possible you are eligible for dual citizenship, provided other criteria are met.
We’ll be happy to assist you with your naturalization record needs. At the Italian American Citizenship Assistance Program, we will perform a thorough research to discover and deliver to you certified copies as required by the Italian Consulates, and if no papers can be found, we will gather the necessary “No Record” letters and corresponding certified US Census records for you. Contact us today for a free consultation to see if Italian citizenship is waiting for you.
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