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Overheard in GenForum: Finding Naturalization Info with INS
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

June 07, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have recently obtained the Petition numbers for some ancestors' declarations/naturalizations. I am not sure what the number signifies. How do I go about writing for the info, is there a form letter on a web page somewhere? -- Gina

A: The naturalization process, that is the process whereby immigrants could become naturalized citizens in the United States, has never been an easy paper trail to follow. The different laws and the different steps necessary have always created a lot of paper. The trick is in knowing where that paper may now be located.

In most instances the most important aspect of the naturalization becomes the date. The year 1906 is paramount to the possible repositories you will need to search or contact to find the naturalization papers.

In naturalization, 1906 is a pivotal year.

Petition Records

It sounds like you have the numbers for the petitions themselves. The petition for naturalization was also known as the "second paper." This was the second step in the naturalization process. Depending on the year involved, it could have happened shortly after the first step or required an additional waiting period.

The petition for naturalization is the record of choice for genealogists. It is very often this record that supplies the researcher with the much sought-after tidbits such as the place of birth. Other information may include occupation, date of birth, physical description, name of spouse and date and place of marriage.

The location of this record will vary depending on when the naturalization process took place. As was mentioned earlier, the deciding year is 1906. Prior to 1906 there was just a single copy of the naturalization record which was kept by the court where the naturalization took place. The other copy is found at the Immigration and Naturalization Services in Washington, D.C.

Other Records

The petition for naturalization was the second step. The first step was the Declaration of Intent. Like the second papers, this often holds valuable clues for genealogist, though often more so in more recent years than those filed in the mid 1800s. The Declaration of Intent will often supply the researcher with the name of the ship, the name of the port of entry and the date of arrival. When working in those unindexed years of the port of New York, this information is essential for locating the ship's passenger list.

For a naturalization that took place prior to 1906, the Declaration of Intent may not be found in the same courthouse as the petition of naturalization. The process took a number of years. Our ancestors could walk into the courthouse where they were presently living and complete whatever step they needed at that time. As a result it is possible that for some of our ancestors the declaration of intent will be found in one courthouse, the petition for naturalization in another, and the final naturalization certificate in still yet another.


The Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, DC is the place to turn for naturalizations that took place after 1906. In addition to having a copy of each naturalization, the INS maintains an index to all of the naturalizations since 1906. For those after 1960, the index is computerized.

If your ancestor was naturalized after 1929, then the naturalization file will also contain a photograph. What a great added bonus.

Like most of the other governmental departments, the INS is now online. You can visit their Web site for additional information, including a great section of Frequent Asked Questions about the naturalization process.

In Conclusion

If you can figure out where these records may be housed, again going back to the date, then you have a piece of the puzzle that few have when they begin their research. When contacting either the courthouse or the INS, you will have the petition number to supply at the time you make your request.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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