Do you know what it takes to become a citizen of the United States of America? How about when the county was young and immigration was essential in developing settlements?
Many of Warren County’s early settlers had to fill out official paperwork concerning naturalization and becoming a United States citizen. Naturalization in America dates back to the 18th century with the Naturalization Act of 1790, stating that those who had resided in the country for two years and had kept their current state of residence for one year could apply for citizenship. A number of naturalization acts followed, increasing residence requirements from 2 years to 14. The Naturalization Laws of the 19th century helped both hinder and advance certain immigrant groups. Children of immigrants born in the United States were now protected by the 14th Amendment and African Americans were included in 1870, while Chinese Americans were limited by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Immigration laws were reformed numerous times in the 20th and 21st centuries, mainly due to international relations and perceived threat.
We all learned about Ellis Island and immigration influx in grade school, but rarely follow up with what happened once settlers ventured westward. The Naturalization Records at the Warren County Records Center & Archives show who came to the county and from where, how they made their journey, and their reasons and intentions. These records date back to 1848, just 45 years after the county was officially formed! Most naturalization records come in three parts: the Declaration of Intention, the Petition for Naturalization, and the Final Papers or a certificate granting citizenship. Citizens that arrived in the United States after 1906 were also immediately issued a Certificate of Arrival at the port in which they entered the United States. Before 1906, an immigrant could be naturalized in any court of record. They typically began the citizenship process by taking out papers in the county where they first arrived. For example, an immigrant may have started out in New York City and then completed county papers once final residency was established somewhere else, like Warren County. After 1906, the courts forwarded copies of naturalizations to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
Below are just a few of the unique naturalization records the Records Center & Archives holds. Take a moment to look at these documents and think about the challenges early immigrants to Warren County faced. How can we use naturalization records to better understand our past today?
Trivia Question: What 20th century event caused immigration to the United States to decrease under President Franklin D. Roosevelt? The answer will be revealed next post!