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Italian Citizenship Assistance Program
Italian Passport

Naturalization Mysteries

Did your Italian ancestor naturalize as a US citizen? You might search all the dusty boxes from family attic collections without finding a definite answer. For some, an ancestor moved to the US more than 100 years ago, and their paperwork could be long lost from family records. Other ancestors might have secretly remained aliens but insisted they were citizens to census enumerators or nosy neighbors. Family knowledge aside, it is necessary to locate this information. You must show government proof to your Italian consulate jurisdiction that 1) your ancestor naturalized after the birth of the US-born child that relates to you, or 2) your ancestor never naturalized.

I notice a few misconceptions from clients that I’ll briefly dispel. Naturalization does not refer to a migrant passing through Ellis Island and reporting their arrival. An ancestor might have had a social security number as a working US resident, but this does not confirm citizenship. Residents could serve in the US military without naturalizing. Finally, Italians who naturalized in the US prior to 1990 did not have the option to hold dual citizenship; if they naturalized before 1990, they renounced Italian citizenship.

A citizenship applicant first filed a Declaration of Intention. The applicant was still an alien, showing true intention to renounce Italian citizenship and become a US citizen. Within a few years, the applicant then filed a Petition for Naturalization where they sweared off anarchy and polygamy and everything that makes good novels, and signed an Oath of Allegiance to the US. The Italian consulates will look to the date the oath was signed to determine citizenship. In some cases, a certificate of citizenship is also available.

The US does not have a centralized archive for historic naturalization records (that would make my work too easy). Immigrants could naturalize through a court of their choosing: city, county,state, federal. Naturalization records dated before 1906 (when INS began), might only be archived in a local court. Many immigrants lived in or near large cities, and some lived across multiple cities and states in their lifetime. It is possible they lived in one part of a city but naturalized closer to their workplace (though many likely preferred to complete the process close to home).

I begin searching genealogy websites for ship arrival reports, census reports, and military registration forms. These sites might reveal bits of an ancestor’s past, but in some cases I find no available leads. My next step is to coordinate research with the National Archives, which is the federal repository for District Court naturalizations, and with USCIS-Homeland Security (formerly INS), which holds duplicates of naturalization records after 1906.. Often, if a naturalization record exists, either of these sources possess the record.

I’ve learned two wonderfully frustrating outcomes. Some Italian-born ancestors arrived to the US as children, along with their parents. If their father naturalized prior to May 29, 1929 and while they were below the age of majority, they would receive derivative citizenship through him. The only proof is that the child’s name is listed on the father’s naturalization record. The Italian consulate considers this to be a legal naturalization. Similarly, prior to September 22, 1922, women received the citizenship of their husband, whether they married a US citizen or their Italian husband naturalized as a US citizen. The only option for dual citizenship with these outcomes is to challenge these laws through the Italian court system.. This is not an inexpensive option. If you discover your ancestor received derivative citizenship, consider if Italian citizenship is the best option for you, or if an occasional getaway to the boot-shaped peninsula could be equally fulfilling.