Naturalization entries in census

I took my own advice by following up on one of the Findmypast tips, from yesterday’s posting here.

In the past, naturalization records have not proven to be important sources of information for my Irish family history research. Consequently I’ve been overlooking details found in census records. Here’s a recap of what can be found:

1870 U.S. Census, Column 19, “Male Citizens of 21 years of age and upwards.” If there’s a check mark in this column, naturalization has already occurred. Maybe. Like other census entries, you can’t depend on the accuracy of the information. Many immigrants mistakenly believed they became citizens after filing “first papers.” Further, the person reporting for the family may not have known the exact status of males in the household.

1900 U.S. Census, Column 18, “Naturalization.” One of these abbreviations should denote the status:

  • AL – the person was an alien as they hadn’t begun the naturalization process;
  • PA – the person had gone through the Declaration of Intent and had filed first papers;
  • NA – the person had completed the naturalization process and was a U.S. citizen;
  • NR – information was not gathered.

1910 U.S. Census, Column 16. Responses about naturalization are the same as 1900.

1920 U.S. Census, Column 14. Asks for the same information as well as the exact year of naturalization (Column 15).

1930 U.S. Census, Column 23. Asks for citizenship status the same as 1900, 1910, and 1920. Column 22 asks for the year of immigration to the U.S.

A handy summary of the naturalization process can be found in Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy Guide (which is why you should have a copy of her book in your library):

The process could be started and finished at any local, state, or federal court. In practice, individuals usually went to the county court nearest their residence. An immigrant could take the first step – the “declaration of intent” to become a citizen – after living in the United States for at least two years. This was followed three years later by a “petition for naturalization” (known as “second” or “final” papers), which would result in a certificate of citizenship. (Note: The two steps did not have to take place in the same court.)

Here are a few of the problems I’ve encountered finding naturalization records:

  1. Most of the Irish-born male immigrants in our family (except sons who achieved citizenship through their father’s naturalization) died before the 1900 census was taken. None lived until the 1920 census. The 1900-1930 census hints aren’t very helpful.
  2. Our Irish-born, first-generation female ancestors frequently lived longer; however, since married women were granted citizenship through their husbands, no separate naturalization records exist.
  3. Census  responses regarding the year of immigration – while collected from both males and females – vary widely and are rarely accurate.
  4. Our Irish ancestors settled in multiple places and lived there several years before coming to Minnesota (e.g., Rowan: New York to Illinois to MN; Hickey: New York to Wisconsin to MN; Quinn: Pennsylvania to Maryland to MN). The number of potential courts to research for naturalization records makes it a daunting task.
Thomas Quinn Declaration of Intent

Thomas Quinn Declaration of Intent

From the homestead file for Thomas Quinn, I have his declaration (“first papers”) dated January 1855 (at right).

  • In October 1855 he acquired real property in Dakota County. I suspect he may have never completed the naturalization process.
  • First papers show the date he arrived in the United States (1850) but not his birthplace, only that he “renounces…allegiance and Victoria, Queen of Great Britain & Ireland.”
  • Upon reviewing my records, I find I’m missing the 1870 U.S. census, for all factions of the Quinn family in Minnesota. They’re listed there in Dakota County in 1860 and again in 1880.
  • The surname must be mis-spelled or mis-transcribed in 1870. I’ll try to do a manual search of residents in Inver Grove Township and see if I can locate them. Maybe I’ll find a clue and re-looking at this wasn’t a waste of time!

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