Union County Naturalizations, 1820-1920
(Updated: April 23, 2015)
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Naturalization Records (1820-1920)
These records contain a record of foreign aliens declaring their intention to become citizens of the United States and certificates of naturalization granting foreign aliens, which have declared their intention to become a citizen of the United States, citizenship. Records prior to 1906, usually only contain the year of arrival, nativity and date of citizenship. Naturalizations after 1906 contain detailed information about individuals including, perhaps, current address, occupation, birthplace, birth date, marital status, spousal information, date and port of emigration (departure), date and port of immigration (arrival), name of ship or mode of entry, witness information, physical description and the immigrant’s signature.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 provided the first rules to be followed in the United States for the granting of national citizenship. Throughout the Twentieth Century an alien could become naturalized in any court of record. Consequently, most people went to the court most convenient to them, usually a county court. In the case of Union County this was the Court of Common Pleas from 1820 to 1859, the Union Count District Court on rare occasion from 1852 to 1859, the Probate Court from 1852 to 1906, and the Court of Common Pleas from 1906 to 1920. After 1920 no naturalizations were recorded in Union County, pursuant to a court order from the Common Pleas Court Judge effective October 1, 1920.
Naturalization was a two-step process that took a minimum of five years. After residing in the United States for two years, an alien could file a “declaration of intent” – so-called “first papers” – to become a citizen. After three additional years, the alien then could “petition for naturalization.” After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the individual and they became a naturalized United States citizen. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court or even in the same state. There were three major exceptions to this rule. The first was “derivative” citizenship, which automatically granted citizenship to wives and minor children of naturalized men. This applied to wives from 1790 to 1922 and to all children under the age of twenty-one. The second exception, from 1824 to 1906, allowed minor aliens under age twenty-three, who had resided in the United States for five years, to file both their declaration and petitions at the same time. The last exception accelerated the naturalization process for military veterans or those enlisted in the armed forces.
The Naturalization Act of 1906, created on September 27, 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in the Department of Commerce and Labor. This agency supervised and standardized the process of naturalization. This act required a Certificate of Arrival for aliens filing a “Declaration of Intention.” The certificate would verify to the court that a person arrived when they claimed. The government was required to check the date given on the application with the ship’s passenger lists. The residency requirement before filing a “Declaration of Intention” was set at two years. Five years residency was required before filing the final papers. When filing the final papers the alien had to submit a “Petition of Naturalization” to the court, and upon granting the petition the Court would issue a “Certificate of Naturalization.” Once this was issued the individual became a naturalized United States citizen. This process remained in effect until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.