From Soldier to Citizen: How to use the Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers

Today’s post comes from Grace Schultz, an archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Did your immigrant ancestor naturalize after serving in World War I? If so, you may find them in the National Archives Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers (Microfilm Publication M1952) which is available online through all of our digitization partners: Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Fold3 (FamilySearch, a free site when you create an account, while Ancestry and Fold3 require a paid subscription unless accessed onsite at a National Archives facility).

National Archives reference staff often receive requests citing index cards from this collection from patrons who found the name of their ancestor, but do not know how to locate the actual naturalization record. This post aims to provide some history of the records and explain how to locate WWI naturalization records by using the index.

Background on WWI Naturalizations

Under the provisions of the Naturalization Act of 1906, immigrants who wanted to become U.S. citizens were required to live in the U.S. for five years, file a declaration of intention for citizenship, speak English, take citizenship exams, and have the testimony of two witnesses. In order to encourage immigrant enlistments in the U.S. armed forces during World War I, Congress passed the Act of May 9, 1918, which exempted foreign-born members of the U.S. armed forces from the usual naturalization requirements. Under this law, service members could become citizens in one day so long as they could prove they were enlisted and had testimony from two witnesses.

In an effort to speed up naturalization proceedings, the Bureau of Naturalization sent examiners to military bases and enlisted temporary examiners to assist in conducting large, open-air naturalization ceremonies before soldiers were shipped off to the front lines. Eventually, more than 300,000 foreign born soldiers and veterans became U.S. citizens through their military service during WWI under these laws.

Using the Index

To locate a World War I soldier’s naturalization, begin by searching the Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers (using Ancestry, FamilySearch, or Fold3). Not all U.S. military bases are included on this index, but it’s a good place to start.

If the soldier’s name appears in the index file, the index card will contain the soldier’s name, date of naturalization, court of naturalization (indicated by court number), certificate number, and name of the military base to which the soldier was assigned as of that date.

Index card of Stanislaw Szlucha, naturalized at Camp Crane in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NARA Microfilm Publication M1952.

The court number can be converted to the name of an actual court (i.e. U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, PA) by reference to the Directory of Courts having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings.

Petition for Naturalization for Stanislaw Szlucha.

For example, the index card of Stanislaw Szlucha lists court no. 2770, the records of which are held by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA), according to the Directory of Courts having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings. EDPA naturalization records are digitized and available online through our digitization partners (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Fold3), so Stanislaw Szlucha’s naturalization record was easy to find online.

Not all of the naturalization referenced in this index will be held by the National Archives. For example, the index card of Mattio Diagostino, seen below, lists Camp Merritt as the military base; 9/21/1918 as the date of naturalization; 1080755 as the certificate number; and the court number as 2178.

Index card of Mattio Diagostino, naturalized at Camp Merrit in Bergen County, New Jersey. NARA Microfilm Publication M1952.

As can be seen in the Directory of Courts having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings, the corresponding naturalization record can be requested from the Clerk at the Bergen County Court in New Jersey. Not all naturalization records documented in this series will be held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Can’t Find Your Ancestor?

This index includes many, but not all, military naturalizations that occurred during the course of World War I. If the name you’re looking for does not appear in the index, you can contact the county clerk in the location around where the individual was living at the time of suspected naturalization.

Another research option would be to submit a request to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Genealogy Program. USCIS possesses a copy of any naturalization records since 1906, and can let you know definitively whether or not your ancestor ever naturalized anywhere in the United States, under military or any other provision of U.S. nationality law.

For the National Archives Catalog description see:

Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918 – 1918 (National Archives ID 4486701). Department of Labor. Bureau of Immigration. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85.  *Microfilm Publication M1952 – available on partner websites*

This post first appeared on NARA’s Pieces of History Blog.