Tag Archives: freedom of information act

Naturalization Certificate and Records

One of the first records you will want to get is your Italian-born ascendant’s naturalization record for several reasons.   First, as I wrote about here, proof that your relative was not naturalized before their kin was born is one of the key criteria the Italian consulate will look for.   It is a good idea to  get this confirmation before going through the expense and trouble of collecting all of the other required records.  Second,  it can take quite awhile, sometimes months, to get the record.  In this case, it is good to get the ball rolling sooner than later.  Finally, depending on where and when it was issued, the naturalization record can contain a lot of information about your relative.  If you have information you are missing which you need to be able to request other records, the data contained in the naturalization record may help fill some of the gaps.

I wrote a summary of the requirements mentioned in this article here for those just wanting a high level overview of what records they will need to collect.  This article contains tips and tricks and additional information that you may find helpful.

If you have your Italian-born ascendants original certificate and there are no major discrepancies between that and their other records, this will likely be good enough and you shouldn’t need to go through the steps outlined below.  Definitely double-check with your consulate though just to confirm they don’t need anything else.  An original naturalization certificate is the only record the Italian consulate will return to you.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a record of all naturalization certificates (also called C-Files) issued after 1906.  If the naturalization certificate was issued on or before April 1, 1952, you can request a copy of the naturalization certificate from the USCIS genealogy program.  If the naturalization was issued prior to 1906, you’ll likely need to go to the local court which issued it.  If it was issued after April 1, 1952, you’ll need to request the certificate using the Freedom of Information Act form which can be found here.  If your relative is still alive and they do not have their naturalization certificate, you may need to have them submit a request, otherwise you’ll likely need to send the USCIS their death certificate.

Prior to submitting your request, if you do not currently have the naturalization certificate number (which is typically 7 digits long) on other documentation, do a little searching online to see if you can find your ancestors naturalization index.  If you can’t find this number, consider trying to get records through one of the other organizations listed below first as they will typically include this number on the records they send you.  Otherwise, you’ll need to submit a search request before you can request the actual certificate.  There is a  fee for this service and it can take several weeks to get this information so finding this number can save quite a bit of time and expense.   Once you have the certificate number, you can order the certificate online or via mail. It took them about 4 months to send my great grandfather’s naturalization certificate from the time I submitted the request.  About a month or so before receiving it, I received an email letting me know they had my request.  If you are requesting the certificate from the genealogy program, they include the date range of records (based on when they were submitted) they are currently working on at the bottom of their website.  Also, you cannot get a certified, true copy from the USCIS (unless your relative is still alive and requests it) therefore you will also likely need to request certified backup documentation from one of the other organizations that holds naturalization records as outlined below.

If you end up needing to do a search request, make sure you include alternate spellings of names and nick names as well as possible birth dates they may have used.  Ask them include any “declaration of intention” or “petition for naturalization” records in their search.  If you know your relative did not get naturalized or they cannot find the record, you can ask them to send you a statement of no record by following the instructions found here.  If they do find the record, submit a separate request for them to send you the record using the instructions they provide to you.  If they issue a “Record Not Found” because they either could not find the record or your relative was never naturalized, there are multiple other steps the Italian consulate requires you go through which I wrote about in the last paragraph here.  The cost of this along with additional information can be found on the USCIS website.

There are three primary organization types outside of the USCIS that may hold naturalization records: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), courthouses and county or state archive offices or historical societies.  The organization you request them through will depend on where and when the naturalization certificate was issued.    If you have a copy of the naturalization certificate or were able to find the index file online, it should include the court it was issued in.  For example, U.S. District Court or District Court of “x” county or state.  If it was issued at a U.S. District Court, you can go through the NARA.  The NARA will occasionally have a few county and state records as well.  There is no cost for the NARA to do a search and let you know if they have any records.

I went through the NARA for my great grandfather’s naturalization record and found their customer service to be outstanding and the turn around to be quick.  Make sure you request a certified copy.  The cost for these through the NARA was $22.50 at the time of this writing.  The NARA takes requests via email (usually {city name}.archives@nara.gov). After sending my initial request to the boston.archives@nara.gov email box, I did not hear back for 2 weeks so I contacted them.  They were apologetic and I received a copy of the naturalization record within a week, free of charge.  The NARA does not have the actual naturalization certificates.  My packet included: a Certificate of Arrival, a Certificate of Loyalty, the Petition for Naturalization, an Affadavit of Witness and the Oath of Allegiance.  The certificate number needed for the USCIS is in the Oath of Allegiance section. The packet was bound with a red ribbon and had a gold seal holding it in place certifying it.

There are satellite National Archives offices scattered throughout the U.S. that serve different regions.  Contact the one that serves the location where the naturalization record was issued.   If you do not know where the naturalization record was issued or who issued it, asking one of the National Archives offices to do a search is a good place to start.   Make sure you let them know the different name variations the record could be under.  A listing of all of the National Archives offices with a link to their respective websites with contact information can be found here: http://www.archives.gov/locations/.

If the naturalization was issued by a municipal, county or state court, you will probably need to go to the appropriate court or, in some cases, the county or state archive office or historical society.  As with other search requests, if you don’t know how your ancestors name was spelled on the naturalization certificate, be sure to include multiple spelling variations if applicable.  If the records were sent to a historical society, request they also send you a custodial agreement or letter (signed by a registrar of records, with appropriate letter head and notarization) stating that the county or state released the naturalization documents to them.  As with the NARA, make sure to request any records be certified.

If any of the organizations cannot find the record, you will want to request a statement of no record, signed by a custodian of records (ask them to include their title or include a statement that they have access to the register of naturalizations), with appropriate letterhead and notarization to include in the packet you give to the consulate.  Also, if the NARA or county do not have the record, you may need to get a certified copy of the most recent census record after your first US-born relatives was born from the NARA.  This should list both your Italian born relative and US born relative and indicate your Italian-born relative was still an Italian citizen by showing an al. (for alien) in the status column.  For example, if your first US born relative was born in 1915, request a certified 1920 census listing them.  You should be able to find an electronic copy online first making the search quicker and easier for the NARA.  Other records that can help provide proof that your Italian born ascendant was still an Italian citizen when your U.S. born ascendant was born include World War I and World War II registrations, ship manifests, and voter list records.

As mentioned earlier, one thing which will make requesting a naturalization record easier is if you can find a copy of the naturalization record index online.  The two websites where I have found them for my relatives are: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.  Family Search is free.  Ancestry.com is subscription based, however, at the time of this writing, it offers a free two week trial.  If you find this for your Italian relative, include the petition number in the body of your email to the NARA, local court or archives office and attach a copy of the index.  This will help them locate the record quickly.  Also, don’t be shy about picking up the phone and calling these organizations if their website is not clear or you have questions.  I have found most of the people I have spoken with want to help and seem to enjoy this part of their job.

Standard disclaimer: It is always a good idea to check the requirements of your specific consulate.  The consulate occasionally changes the requirements and there may be variances between the consulates.