Ellis Island Photograph exhibit
This month's Family History News echoes the theme of the History Center's latest photograph exhibit, Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits. These images bear witness to the diversity of our human family here in America and Minnesota.
A related exhibit in the Library honors Minnesota's Dakota and Ojibwe people portrayed in photographic portraits, and in paintings, such as Chief Wabasha (left), by artist Henry Inman. So with new and long-time Americans in mind we offer these articles on immigration and citizenship.
Naturalization records, the application forms for U.S. citizenship, are often an outstanding source for family history. For much of our history, naturalization could occur in any court of law, and little identifying information was required. In 1906, with the establishment of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, procedures were standardized and application forms were developed requiring more detailed background information.
In Minnesota, naturalization records for the state district courts and the state Supreme Court generally begin in the 1850s and end in the 1940s, when naturalization activity began to be handled by the federal courts within the state. Minnesota federal court records are held by the National Archives Regional Research Centers in Chicago, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Naturalization was a two-step process. The first step, called a Declaration of Intent but also known as a first paper, could be filed any time after arrival. Prior to 1906 the only required information was the applicant’s name and country of origin. A few counties also recorded a month and year of birth and/or a date and port of entry. After 1906 the new standardized Declaration of Intent form required more specific information, including: personal description, names of wife and children, local community of birth, local community of residence at time of immigration and date and location of entry into the U.S.
The second step, called the Final Paper, or after 1906 the Petition and Record, could be filed after five years of residence in the U.S. and one year of residence in the state where filing. Prior to 1906, the Final Paper only added the names of two individuals who were already U.S. citizens and served as witnesses to the applicant’s residency and moral character. The applicants also renounced allegiance to their country of origin and declared an oath of allegiance to the U.S. After 1906, the Petition and Record contained a copy of the previously filed Declaration, along with the information provided on a Final Paper. After 1911 a Certificate of Arrival, documenting the applicant’s arrival in a U.S. port, was often included.
In the earliest naturalizations in Minnesota, married women and children were not listed and citizenship was conferred via the husband or father. From 1906-1922 married women and children were listed on the father or husband’s papers. In 1922 changes in federal law no longer allowed for citizenship to transfer via marriage and women were required to apply separately. For more detailed information about searching for naturalization records for women, see the March 2007 issue of the Family History News.
An online index for Minnesota naturalization records is available on the Iron Range Research Center's web site as well as on the subscription-based Ancestry Library Edition available on computers in the Minnesota Historical Society's Library. There are also printed and microfilm indexes for each county. The naturalization records for all counties are on microfilm and available for sale and interlibrary loan. A research request for a specific naturalization record may also be made online via the Library’s research service.
ELLIS ISLAND AND CASTLE GARDEN RECORDS
The port of New York served as the major arrival point for most immigrants. For much of the 19th Century (1830 to 1890) Castle Garden, in the Battery, served as the New York State immigration station and was America’s first official immigration center. Castle Garden has a web site which includes its history and a free searchable database of its records.
As the flow of immigrants increased it was decided to move the reception center to an island in the harbor. Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. This was the first federal facility intended to regulate immigration. From that year until its closing in 1954 more than twelve million immigrants passed through its facilities.
Today Ellis Island operates as an historic site and there is a supporting web site providing free searches of the many passenger arriver records associated with Ellis Island.
Immigrant populations have sometimes been treated with suspicion, particularly during times of crisis, like World War I. These unpleasant episodes also left a trail of documentation. In February 1918 the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety ordered the listing of all non-U.S. citizens in Minnesota. The two-page "Alien Registration and Declaration of Holdings" form includes information about a person’s place and date of birth, port of entry and date of arrival in the United States, occupation, name of wife, names and ages of children, financial situation, and male relatives taking part in World War I. The collection has been indexed, and both the index and the forms are on microfilm in the Minnesota Historical Society State Archives collection. The microfilm is available for sale and interlibrary loan.
TEMPORARY CHANGE IN HOURS DURING RNC
As many of our readers may know, the Republican National Convention (RNC) is being held here in St. Paul the week of Labor Day. Our building is not far from the epicenter of this event and within its security area, so the MHS library will be closed from Saturday August 30 through Thursday September 4th. We re-open on Friday, September 5. You can call us at 651-259-3300 if you have any questions about our hours.
BLOWING OUR OWN HORN
We are modest Minnesotans here. Doing our jobs from day to day is its own reward (aside from our salaries). On rare occasions we do receive special recognition and we like to pass that on to our friends. The good folks at Family Tree Magazine have kindly listed our web site among the 101 Best Web Sites for Tracing Your Roots, in their September 2008 issue, to wit: "Besides databases of Minnesota deaths (1904 to 1907 and 1908 to 2001) and births (1900 to 1934), this rich site rewards visitors with a guide to place names and more than 127,000 digitized images including, of course, photos of many of the state's 10,000 lakes."