Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
The following article appeared in the March-April 2000 issue of "The Lithuanian Museum Review," published by the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629. (773) 582-6500. E-mail: email@example.com.
Last issue we learned that ship passenger arrival records in the U.S. National Archives can be an excellent resource when researching your family history. This month we are featuring another important source--your ancestor’ naturalization documents. Of particular interest are the applications your ancestor would have initially filled out at the county clerk’s office, rather than the actual citizenship certificate itself.
In order to become U.S. citizens, our ancestors had to fill out some specific legal documents. These records are contained on two forms. The first is a Declaration of Intention, meaning the person desired to become a U.S. citizen. An immigrant would fill out this form, and have it legally filed, usually at the county courthouse. They would then have seven years to take citizenship classes and meet the requirements for citizenship.
This particular form could include photographs of the person, particularly if they applied during the 1930s and 1940s. Sometimes a person filled out a Declaration of Intention but didn’t go through with the citizenship process. So just because your ancestor might not have become a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look their name up.
After filing that form and meeting the requirements, the person would then file a Petition for Naturalization. This would be signed by the applicant and two witnesses, have the date of the oath of allegiance, and other legal matters accomplished. The person would then receive a Certificate of Citizenship which they kept with them at home. The original aforementioned forms however, stayed with the county records, and those are the two forms that you are looking for in your search.
The Declaration and Petition forms both contain much information that the Certificate may or may not have, such as: the date the person was born, the village they were born in, the country they were from, what ship they came over to America on, and the date, how their name was originally spelled, name of spouse, names of children and places of birth, possibly a photograph, how long they had lived in America and in their current county, and other helpful information. The earliest forms do not have that much information, while those of the 1907-1920s period are the most complex and helpful to a genealogist.
These forms are on public record and can usually be copied at most county courthouses for a small fee. Some counties have elected to have these valuable documents microfilmed. Some have also allowed these records to be shipped to nearby state or college archives, such as numerous counties have done in my home state of Michigan. Not all counties have done this however. Some have stored these documents in boxes in out-of-the-way warehouses as they needed more working space in their offices.
In Michigan the naturalization application forms of several counties are stored at the State of Michigan Archives in Lansing, Michigan. It is located in the Michigan Library, Museum and Historical Center on W. Allegan St. just a few blocks from the Capitol building. The records have been placed on microfilm for easy viewing by researchers. They also have hard-copy index notebooks to their holdings, which tell you on which particular microfilm roll and page number the name of your ancestor appears. If you happen to find a record that has an actual photograph, you can request the actual document and have the photo copied. For the most part however, the microfilm reader has an excellent copier on 11 x 17" paper and viewing the original fragile documents is not needed.
Why not make a trip to your local county clerk’s office to see if your ancestor filled out a "Declaration of Intention" and later a "Petition for Naturalization" form. You may be in for a big surprise. You may also find out alot about your family heritage you didn’t know previously.
As an example, this issue we are illustrating the Declaration of Intention of a Lithuanian who lived my hometown of Albion, Michigan. John Shimkus (1897-1982) was a native of Erzvilkas, Lithuania and worked at the coal mine just north of Albion during the 1910s and 1920s. The handwritten entries on this form filed in 1924 show that John arrived at Baltimore, Maryland from Bremen, Germany on June 8, 1913. John’s Petition for Naturalization form which was filed two years later states that the name of the ship was the Rhein of the North German Line, which arrived on June 6, 1913. There also is an actual certificate of arrival proving the latter date. One important aspect of these forms is that your ancestor had to try and get the name of the ship they came over to America on. Quite often, therefore, these forms are the "key" in locating your ancestor’s ship passenger arrival records from the U.S. National Archives which we wrote about in the last issue. It saves you much time of having to find their name among the millions in the "Soundex" index.
As with the ship passenger arrival records, if you do succeed in obtaining copies of your ancestors citizenship application forms, please make a copy for our archives here at the Balzekas Museum. We will index them and gratefully place them here in our files for future use by researchers and genealogists.
We are also asking for copies of obituaries of Lithuanians which we can place in our master obituary file. These are a very valuable genealogical resource for us and for persons doing genealogical research. These can be from long ago or recent. Particularly needed are obituaries of Lithuanians who lived in "small towns" across America relatively unknown to the majority of Lithuanians who lived in places like Chicago or in eastern Pennsylvania. Please write in dates and places if necessary, including the name and place of the newspaper, if known. Your help will be greatly appreciated by our staff here at the Balzekas Museum.
Declaration of Intention form of John J. Shimkus (1897-1982), 1924.
More articles about genealogy by Frank Passic.
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