MAIN IDEA NO.3
Typically, when an immigrant wanted to become a citizen, he would file a "Declaration of Intent" with his local
county courthouse. Between two to five years later, he would petition the court for citizenship. If all went
smoothly, the immigrant would be accepted as a citizen. Along the way, other documents might be created.
Not only are naturalization records interesting alone, but they also provide clues to the ancestor's country of
origin, his date of arrival in America and sometimes and even what ship he arrived in.
More than one ancestor detective has heard an immigrant story from their oral history gathering and set out
to find that ancestor's immigrant records. Many of these exuberant family historians found out that, after
sometimes years of researching, they had the wrong name, or the wrong year of arrival.
Even if you think you know the name of your immigrant ancestor, don't begin your family history search there.
Start with yourself and work backwards in time. Use census records to confirm where your parents, grandparents
and their parents lived. Religious records will help fill in the blanks, and perhaps even tell you if your ancestor has
moved to the area from another state or another country.
Eventually, you'll look for naturalization records, since this event is closer to you in time then the actual
Author and professional genealogist Myra Vanderpool Gormley outlines helpful tips for searching passenger lists.
One of the most famous ships to ever sail was the S.S. Titanic. After it sank, the survivors were rescued by the
S.S. Carpathia. A partial listing of the survivors can be found on Carpathia's Ship Passenger List. Note that this
list was lost for a while - can you tell why?
Enjoy a virtual tour of Ellis Island.
Check out old time shipping terminology.
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin has a wonderful page outlining the various documents involved in
the naturalization process, with actual documents included. Check it out!
After taking the virtual tour through Ellis Island, write a letter as if you were an immigrant arriving at Ellis Island
with your family. What are your feelings at this time? Are you homesick? Let your friends in the old country know
what the ship is like, the food, and anything else you can think of that an immigrant your age might think to tell
a friend back home.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND . . .
Working from yourself backwards in time, you will, most likely, come to an ancestor who has adopted
citizenship in America. The records made during this process of becoming a citizen, of being naturalized,
will often include information about the immigrant's homeland and immigration to the United States.
. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
Many of the immigrants who arrived in America came to build a better life for themselves and their children.
Early African immigrants, brought here as slaves, stayed in America after their emancipation in order to build
a better life for their children. Their hard work and dedication created a legacy that we now enjoy. What
legacy will you leave to your children?
Naturalization: The process by which an immigrant becomes a citizen.
Immigration: The process by which a person leaves the land of his or her birth to obtain citizenship or to live in another country.