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Naturalization Records

Overview

Naturalization is the legal procedure by which an alien becomes a citizen of the United States. Naturalization records may provide a vital link for tracing an ancestor to his or her country of origin and can be a rich source of information about the immigrant and his or her family. This is particularly true for records created after 1906.

Wisconsin naturalization records can be found in municipal, county, circuit, supreme, and United State territorial and district courts. Most naturalization records have been transferred from the Wisconsin court system to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Records from various jurisdictions have been brought together and are available for research at the Society's Area Research Centers.

The Process

Congress has the power to "establish a uniform rule of naturalization" under Section 8, Article 1 of the United States Constitution. Federal laws governing the admission of aliens to citizenship, adopted in 1790, replaced the earlier legislation of individual states. 

These statutes were revised in 1795 and again in 1798, but it was the Naturalization Act of 1802 which established the three-part naturalization process which remains in effect today. The alien must declare his or her intention to become a citizen, must serve a required residency period, and then must petition an authorized court for admission to citizenship. In character, this process is both judicial, occurring before and by order of a court, and administrative, being under the supervision of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service of the Department of Justice.

The process begins with the alien filing a Declaration of Intention with an authorized court, indicating his or her intention to become a citizen, to renounce all allegiance to any foreign state, and to renounce any foreign title or order of nobility. At least two years after making the declaration (after 1906, no more than seven years later), an alien who has been a resident of the United States for at least five years could petition the court for admission to citizenship. (Since 1941, the requirement to file a Declaration of Intention has been abolished and the residency period shortened for the spouses of citizens.) The Petition includes both the applicant's oath and the affidavits of two witnesses who attest to the residency and good character of the petitioner. Finally, if the petition is accepted, the court issues an order admitting the individual to citizenship.

The naturalization process became more standardized with the establishment of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) under the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906. The INS exercised federal supervision over the naturalization process and defined administrative procedures. Previously, naturalization could occur in any federal court or any state court of record and was carried out under the general requirements of federal law. Since October, 1906, uniform and considerably more detailed requirements for naturalization, including the form and contents of related records, have been specified by federal statute and promulgated by the INS. Further modifications were made under the Nationality Act of 1940 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Through these revisions, however, the three-step formula for naturalization has remained basically unchanged.

Since the mid-1950's, the number of courts authorized to perform naturalizations has been reduced. In Wisconsin, naturalization currently occurs only in the two federal district courts and in seven selected circuit courts.

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