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Early Naturalization Records

In an earlier lesson, we discussed the post-1906 naturalization records, designed and maintained by the immigration and naturalization service of the U.S. federal government. However, naturalization of aliens had long been a part of American society, even before the Revolutionary War and the creation of the United States. Since naturalization records have a direct bearing on finding immigrants between 1820 and 1854, we will discuss them here.

Colonial Naturalizations

Although the United States government did not pass its first naturalization laws until 1790, there were rules and regulations governing how alien males became citizens even during the colonial time period (females, and youths, were never considered citizens during this period). However, two aspects of colonial naturalization must be remembered: First, naturalization was handled by the individual colonies. There was no "federal" government. Second, as British colonies, any British subjects had citizenship anywhere in the American colonies. Thus colonial naturalization was reserved for "foreigners."

African Americans-Denied Citizenship

The largest group of "foreigners" to arrive at the shores of the New World were African Americans imported as slaves from Africa. They, of course, were denied rights as citizens, and were treated as property.

Other European Colonies-Considered Citizens Already

Some of the earliest European foreigners to settle in North America were the French, Swedes, and Dutch. However, these persons typically settled in colonies of their native countries (Quebec, Delaware, and New Netherlands, later New York). Therefore, they were also considered citizens of their colonies, without naturalization proceedings. As Great Britain conquered those colonies, their residents "automatically" became British citizens. The practice of considering previous residents of newly acquired territory as citizens already, continued on as the United States gained territory from other nations (Louisiana Purchase, Texas, California, etc.).

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