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A deeper look at citizenship papers

Last month I talked about the information that can be found on two documents that are filled out when an immigrant applies for citizenship: The declaration of intention, and the petition for naturalization. The information is quite similar, with the petition containing data about the spouse and children as well as the immigrant himself.

Since I wrote that column, I have spent a lot of the past month looking for records of any relative in my file who was born outside the United States and who likely spent time here. I have found out quite a bit of new information that I’d like to share with you now.

First of all, even though I mentioned last month that many of my closest relatives waited until the outbreak of World War II to apply for citizenship, I have found that the cousins that are more distant to me (these would be third and fourth cousins of my grandfather) started in the mid to late 1920s in big numbers. We have to also remember that the process of applying for citizenship took several years, because the immigrant had to live continuously in the United States between the date of the declaration of intention and the date of the petition for naturalization. So if someone became a citizen officially in 1927-1929 (which a lot of them did), then they began the process in the 1923-1925 period. I would have to study this subject for some time to find the reasons, but these might have been immigrants who left Italy prior to the start of World War I, and once they found out economic conditions in Italy after the war, combined with the fascist government that took over in 1922, it made the decision to stay in the United States easier to make. Regardless of the reasons, all I can say is that I noticed a sharp increase in the late 1920s, a lag in the 1930s, and a surge again in the early 1940s.

I have also found that in many cases, the wife did not apply for citizenship on her own. Up to 1922, if the husband/father became a citizen, his wife and children who were born elsewhere were “grandfathered” in. After 1922, the wife and children would have to file on their own, and yet in many cases, the wife never did. Perhaps it was because the wife worked in the home and did not need citizenship papers for that reason.

There is also a later wave of immigrants who were born in the 1920s and 1930s or even later. A second index covering 1926-1979 on www.familysearch.org refers to the “Eastern Division” of the Northern District, but it has many 20-40 year old immigrants applying for citizenship in the 1950s-1970s. It works exactly the same as the index I referred to in last month’s column that says 1840-1950. Yes there are many duplicates between the two indexes during the years that overlap. If you find anyone in this index, make sure to record the petition number (usually in the 300000 or 400000 range) and the date stamped diagonally on the card.

One of the hassles of finding the actual copies of the declaration and the petition is that they could have been filed in any court, depending on the year. Up through the late 1920s, many of these papers were filed in the Superior Court of Cook County, Circuit Court of Cook County, and even a few in Criminal Court, or in other county courts that are covered by the “Northern District”. The later 1920s and beyond are mostly filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The records you will find in the two indexes will always mention the name of the court. If it doesn’t mention a court, presume it is the U.S. District. Each court has a numbering system for the petitions. The numbers for the declaration are not that important, partly because some people filed the declaration but never completed the petition. In some cases, they moved back to Italy before the residency requirement was fulfilled. In some cases, they just never bothered with the paperwork. In a few cases, the immigrant died before the petition could be filed. However, the number of the petition is critical. It will usually say “P-273419” in the section of the index card for that purpose. Sometimes, the card has very little information on it, usually a name, an address, and a number that looks like “730/273419”. The 730 is on all the cards. The 273419 is the petition number.

Ok, so now I have the court name and the petition number. Now what do I do? Last month I talked about the U.S. District court records that are on familysearch. Petitions 80000-127999 are on-line and you can download and print copies of anyone whose petition number is in that range. (See that column for details on how to find them.) The other court records may be on-line later on but I do not know the timetable when this will happen. The US District Petitions through number 337400 are on microfilm and can be found in the Family History Catalog here. These films need to be ordered and sent to your local family history center. Just find the film number that contains the petition number you need.

For petitions of the Superior Court in Cook County, you need to order microfilms from the following list here. However, this list does not show the petition numbers contained in each film. So it is even more important to record the date of naturalization to help narrow down which films it could be on. If your soundex card shows the volume number, that will narrow it down even further. There are three index films to this series and perhaps they can help find the right volume number.

Petitions for the Circuit Court are on microfilm here. These list the petition numbers so they are easy to work with.

As always, check with your local family history centers to see if they happen to have the film you need. But no one center has even close to a complete set of these films.

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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