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Naturalization Records

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basic Naturalization documents?

Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes a citizen and naturalization records are among the most valuable of genealogical sources.

Naturalization was a two step process. First an individual filed Declaration of Intention (sometimes called "first papers") to renounce allegiance to foreign governments and, literally, declare their intention to become a citizen of the United States. After a waiting period the applicant then filed a Petition (sometimes called "final papers") in court to be formally admitted as a citizen. Records sometimes also include copies of naturalization Certificates (presumably the original certificate was given to the applicant), certificates stubs, and miscellaneous documents.

Where are Wisconsin Naturalization records located?

The naturalization process in Wisconsin was handled on a county by county basis and the records are still organized in that manner. Naturalization records for 66 of Wisconsin's 72 counties are held by the Wisconsin Historical Society. However, only Dane, Sauk, and Columbia county naturalization records are at the Society headquarters in Madison. Records for other counties are at the Area Research Center (ARC) in whose region the county is located. Select the appropriate link to find the name and address of the contact person.

The Wisconsin Historical Society does not have any records for Milwaukee and Menominee counties. Milwaukee County records are located at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, 910 N. 3rd Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203. Menominee County was created in 1961 and therefore has no older naturalization records. For records from this area check Shawano or Oconto county records.

The above information applies to naturalizations taking place within state courts (supreme, circuit, county, municipal, etc.). An individual could also naturalize in a Federal Court in Wisconsin. Naturalization records from Federal Courts are not held by the Historical Society. Rather they are at the National Archives, Federal Archives and Records Center, 7358 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60629.

Are Wisconsin Naturalization records indexed?

There is no statewide index, but in all cases there is indexing for each county. Thus to search for a naturalization one must first try to determine the county of residence.

Why did I find only a Declaration of Intention ("First Papers") for my ancestors?

Once a man filed a declaration of intention, he was allowed to vote. Many apparently didn't fully understand the naturalization process, or simply didn't bother to complete it since there was no additional tangible benefit for completing the second step of the process. Hence it is very common in the nineteenth century to find only a Declaration of Intention for a given individual.

Why are so few women and children covered in the Naturalization records?

Until 1922 women automatically achieved citizenship when their husband naturalized, or when they married a citizen. Likewise minor children automatically became citizens when their father naturalized. Since women could not vote until after 1919, many single women probably didn't bother to naturalize, as there was no practical reason to do so.

How do I know where my ancestors applied for Naturalization?

They could have filed in almost any court near where they resided, and they could even have filed the declaration (first papers) at one location and the petition (final papers) at a completely different location. Search first the naturalization records for the county in which they resided. If not found there try surrounding counties and if still not found try the National Archives.

Did service in the military automatically confer citizenship?

No, it just expedited the process. Beginning in 1862 service in the military could be substituted for the first step in the naturalization process. In other words a man who served in the military did not have to file a Declaration of Intention.

What information is contained in Wisconsin Naturalization records?

The information varies greatly, over time and even from county to county. In some instances naturalization records will provide only the name and signature (or mark) of the applicant, the country to which he is renouncing allegiance, and the date of the document. In other instances records will show that information plus residence, occupation, date and place of birth, physical description, date of emigration, ports of embarkation and arrival, marital status, names and birth dates and places of applicant's children, and even a photo of the applicant. Generally the post 1906 records contain much more information than the earlier records.

Who will you find?

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