Declarations of Intent


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Immigration Process-Declarations of Intent

From the first naturalization law passed by Congress in 1790 through much of the twentieth century an alien could become naturalized in any court of record. Thus, most people went to the court most convenient to them, usually a county court. The names and types of courts have varied from state to state and during different periods of history--but may include the county supreme, circuit, district, equity, chancery, probate, or common pleas court. Most researchers will find that their ancestors became naturalized in one of these courts.

General rule: The Two Step Process

Congress passed the first law regulating naturalization in 1790. As a general rule, naturalization was a two-step process that took a minimum of 5 years.

Step One--After residing in the United States for 2 years, an alien could file a "declaration of intent" or "first papers", to become a citizen. In this filing with an authorized court, the alien indicated the intention to become a citizen , to renounce all allegiance to any foreign state, and to renounce any foreign title or order of nobility.

Step Two--After 3 additional years, (after 1906, no more than 7 yrs later) the alien could "petition for naturalization" or "second papers". After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to occur in the same court. Prior to Sept. 1906 the exact content of the petitions depended on the record keeping of the court or local custom. As a general rule, the "declaration of intent" contains more genealogically useful information than the "petition". The "declaration" may include the alien's month and year or possibly the exact date of immigration. The "petition" consisted of the applicant's petition to the court, an oath of allegiance, and affidavits of two witnesses attesting to the petitioner's good character and residency. After Sept 1906 the INS adopted new petition forms for general use with the following information, petitioners name; residence; occupation; date and place of birth; date and place of immigration; date; place and vessel or other conveyance into the U. S.,; period of residency; place, date, and name of court where the declaration intent was made; marital status; spouse's name, birth date, and place of residency; and names, dates and places of birth, and residency of the petitioner's children.

As with anything, the rule has exceptions

The first major exception was the "derivative" citizenship granted to wives and minor children of naturalized men. From 1790 to 1922, wives of naturalized men automatically became citizens. This also meant the alien women a U.S. citizen automatically became a citizen. Conversely, an American woman who married an alien lost her U. S citizenship., even if she never left the United States. From 1790 to 1940, children under the age of 21 automatically became naturalized citizens upon the naturalization of their father. Name and biographical information about wives and children are rarely included in declarations of petitions filed before Sept. 1906.

The second major exception was that from 1824 to 1906, minor aliens who had lived in the U.S. 5 years before their 23rd birthday could file both their declarations and petitions at the same time.

The third major exception was the special consideration given to veterans. An 1862 law allowed honorably discharged Army veterans of any war to petition for naturalization--without having filed a declaration of intent--after only 1 year of residence in the U.S. An 1894 law extended the so-previous-declaration privilege to honorably discharged 5-year veterans of the Navy or Marine Corps. Over 192,000 aliens were naturalized between May 9, 1918 and June 30, 1919, under an act of May 9, 1918, that allowed aliens serving in the U.S. armed forces during the "present war" to file a petition for naturalization without making a declaration of intent or proving 5 yrs. residence. Laws enacted in 1919, 1926, 1940 and 1952 continued various preferential treatment provisions for veterans.

Copies of the records may be obtain by writing:

State Archives of Michigan
Michigan Historical Center
P.O. 30740
717 W. Allegan St.
Lansing, MI 48909-8240
Fax (517)373-0851

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Immigration Process


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May 1998

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