03 May 2022

Tying Up Loose Ends with Naturalization Papers

My new friend is trying to identify her birth father. My mother and I are on her DNA match list, and she decided to contact me after reading my blog.

She gave me the names of some of her other matches. Almost all the DNA matches had one Italian town in common. It's the town of my maternal grandfather's birth—Baselice.

She showed me a page from a man's U.S. naturalization papers. This man's daughter is one of her DNA matches. I quickly researched the man (Pasquale) and found his birth record in Baselice. Years ago I added nearly every name from Baselice's vital records (1809–1860) to my family tree. I was able to find some sort of connection to them all.

Now I have access to records after 1860 on the Antenati website (see How to Use the Online Italian Genealogy Archives). Using these documents, I was able to place Pasquale and his parents in my family tree. His wife is my 4th cousin once removed. Her 3rd great grandparents are my 4th great grandparents.

Pasquale's U.S. naturalization papers had a lot to offer to my family tree—even if some facts were a little bit wrong (see What to Find on Your Ancestor's Naturalization Papers).

Here are the key points to focus on when you find someone's U.S. naturalization papers.

Declaration of Intention

In this first step of the process, a person declares their intention to become a United States citizen.

Look for these facts on their form:

  • current name and address
  • occupation
  • age
  • physical description (and maybe a photo)
  • place and date of birth
  • spouse's name, birth date and place
  • marriage date
  • spouse's arrival in the U.S.
  • names and birth dates/places of all children
  • applicant's arrival in the U.S.—date and ship name
Your ancestor's declaration of intention can be a treasure trove of genealogy facts.
Your ancestor's declaration of intention can be a treasure trove of genealogy facts.

That's a ton of valuable data! I'll admit I was skeptical at first that this man was from my grandfather's town. Three important facts were wrong on the declaration page:

  • Pasquale's hometown (Bazeline instead of Baselice)
  • Pasquale's birth date (8 Oct instead of 3 Dec)
  • his first child's birth date (1913 instead of 1912)

Luckily, the next step in the citizenship process put my doubts to rest.

Petition for Citizenship

Two years after submitting his declaration of intention, Pasquale filed his petition for citizenship. This document correctly spells the name of Pasquale's hometown, Baselice.

The petition repeats all the information from the declaration except the physical description. This accounting of the facts may clarify errors on the first document.

If possible, find the full set of documents, as I did in the Massachusetts State and Federal Naturalization Records. You may find an authenticated Certificate of Arrival before the first page. Be sure to back up a page or two and take a look.

This little document verifies the applicant's arrival in the U.S. Now you can go to the immigration records to find that ship on that date and locate your person.

If you find your person's naturalization papers, back up a page and look for this little document.
If you find your person's naturalization papers, back up a page and look for this little document.

Oath of Allegiance

The final step in the citizenship process is the applicant's oath of allegiance. This is a very short document. The applicant renounces their loyalty to their former country and swears allegiance to the United States.

You'll find their signature, the date, a clerk's signature, and one or more certificate numbers.

I like to record all the dates in my family tree. Pasquale declared his intention on 15 Sep 1931, filed his petition on 22 Nov 1933, and became a citizen on 5 Mar 1934. He had arrived in Boston on 27 Jul 1913, and his wife and eldest child arrived on 30 Sep 1920.

The arrival dates explained the 9-year gap between children (1912–1921). Pasquale had been away for years, leaving his wife in Baselice with two infants (I found both birth records). One child died before making the voyage to America.

Naturalization papers are priceless for helping you find otherwise undocumented facts. For instance, I didn't know that Pasquale's parents, born in 1851 and 1845, had married one another. I didn't know that Pasquale had married my 4th cousin once removed. The marriage records for those years are not available. Now I can follow Pasquale and his family in the U.S. census, Social Security records, obituaries, and more.

Isn't it wonderful how one set of records can fit together so many pieces of the puzzle? Sometimes the missing pieces seem to fall right into our laps.

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