November 11 is Veterans Day. Visit the National Archives website for more resources on records related to Veterans. Today’s post comes from Grace Schultz, an archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
Did your immigrant ancestor naturalize after serving in World War I? If so, you may have used NARA’s Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers (Microfilm Publication M1952), which is available through all of our digitization partners: Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Fold3. (Access to FamilySearch is free when you create an account, while Ancestry and Fold3 requires a paid subscription.)
National Archives reference staff often receive requests from patrons who found the name of an ancestor in these index cards but do not know how to locate the actual naturalization record. This post will provide some history of the records and explain how to locate World War I naturalization records by using the index.
Background on World War I Naturalizations
Under the provisions of the Naturalization Act of 1906, immigrants who wanted to become U.S. citizens were required to live in the United States for five years, file a declaration of intention for citizenship, speak English, take citizenship exams, and have the testimony of two witnesses. In order to encourage immigrant enlistments in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I, Congress passed the Alien Naturalization Act of May 9, 1918, which exempted foreign-born members of the U.S. armed forces from the usual naturalization requirements. Under this law, service members could become citizens in one day so long as they could prove they were enlisted and had testimony from two witnesses.
In an effort to speed up naturalization proceedings, the Bureau of Naturalization sent examiners to military bases and enlisted temporary examiners to assist in conducting large, open-air naturalization ceremonies before soldiers were shipped off to the front lines. Eventually, more than 300,000 soldiers and veterans of World War I became U.S. citizens under these laws.
Using the Index
To locate a World War I soldier’s naturalization, begin by searching the Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers. Not all U.S. military bases are included on this index, but it’s a good place to start. If the soldier’s name appears in the index file, the card will contain the soldier’s name, date of naturalization, court of naturalization (indicated by court number), certificate number, and name of the military base to which the soldier was assigned as of that date.
You can convert the court number to the name of an actual court (i.e., U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, PA) by consulting the Directory of Courts having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings. In order to view the Directory you have to be logged in but access if free.
The index card of Stanislaw Szlucha lists court no. 2770, the records of which are held by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA), according to the Directory. Because EDPA naturalization records have been digitized and are available online through our digitization partners (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Fold3), Stanislaw Szlucha’s naturalization record was easy to find online.
Not all of the naturalizations referenced in this index are held by the National Archives. For example, the index card of Mattio Diagostino, seen below, lists Camp Merritt as the military base, 9/21/1918 as the date of naturalization, 1080755 as the certificate number, and the court number as 2178.
As can be seen in the Directory, the corresponding naturalization record can be requested from the Clerk at the Bergen County Court in New Jersey.
Can’t Find Your Ancestor?
This index includes many, but not all, military naturalizations that occurred during the course of World War I. If the name you’re looking for does not appear in the index, try contacting the county clerk in the location where the individual was living at the time of suspected naturalization.
Another research option is to submit a request to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Genealogy Program. USCIS possesses copies of naturalization records since 1906 and can let you know definitively if your ancestor ever naturalized anywhere in the United States, under military or any other provision of U.S. nationality law.