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Immigration & Naturalization

Immigration & Passenger Arrivals Records

All genealogists are in the same boat--we are trying to trace an immigrant parent or ancestor. You may uncover clues in obituaries, passports, family sources, and an array of other records available in courthouses and archives. Perhaps the real questions are, "How long will you search for evidence of this pivotal event?" and "Will your search be as long as the voyage of your ancestor?"

In the light of family and local history, each immigrant is the sine qua non of America. Yet researchers will say they are stuck because they cannot find any records. The myth that illiterate European peasants left no records in their homeland or in America is disproved by the fact that there are numerous collections of immigration and ethnic documents. You may, in fact, drown in the volume of available materials. The misfortune of most researchers is that they don't spend enough time to use the available records properly.

You may save yourself time and effort by concentrating on the passenger arrival records created for the United States government. In the course of your genealogical journey, you should observe the following: the general background and history of passenger arrival records, the genealogical value and contents of arrival records, the availability of passenger records, and appropriate search strategies such as the use of indexes.

You can learn the general background of United States passenger records by studying selected sources. Major research centers such as the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City have books on sailing vessels, migration, naturalization, ethnic groups, Ellis Island, and the like.

You can read Philip Taylor's The Distant Magnet [off-site], for example, to discover how many immigrants came from your native land during a certain era and what ports they favored, or how long the voyage took on certain modes of transportation. Other works will tell you not to look for Ellis Island records for the man who supposedly arrived there in 1849 (it was established in 1892), or to avoid expenses of time and money to find Galveston lists that were destroyed in the Great Hurricane.

Next you need to understand the contents and value of arrival records. The records known as customs passenger lists were filed by the masters of ships for the Collectors of Customs. This was in compliance with an act passed in 1819 and with later acts. The National Archives and Genealogical Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have microfilms of the original customs lists (1820-1902), copies and abstracts (1820-1875), and transcripts of the lists (1819-1832). These records generally provide an immigrant's name, age, sex, occupation, and country of origin.

The records known as immigration passenger lists or "ship manifests" were originally maintained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and earlier offices. The National Archives has copies of the records for the years 1883 to 1951. Researchers will find that immigration lists provide far more genealogical and historical details than the customs lists. The twentieth-century lists reveal names of relatives, places of birth, and other critical information.

Reading the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives will tell you who created the records, which records are available for each port, and what limitations you will face in using the documents. Here you will discover which ports have indexes for the year 1883. And if there is no index, you can decide if the contents of an 1883 list are worth the effort of reading 600,000 scribbled names.

Where are these Records?

The Genealogical Library is the place to visit. It has the most popular passenger lists among its collection of microfilms gathered from around the world. The Genealogical Library also has the most reading and copy machines, liberal rules about using the records, and a staff of trained consultants and volunteers to help you chart your course.

The most modern immigration records are found only in the National Archives. You should also use its services if the records of the Genealogical Library are unavailable or illegible. The National Archives staff will search the records if a researcher completes form NATF 81. This form asks for the date of arrival, port of entry, ship name, country of origin, and naturalization status. Reasons for not searching or for inconclusive searchers are also detailed on this form.

These forms may be obtained from the Correspondence Branch, National Archives, Washington, DC 20408.

It is interesting to note that the original passenger lists from 1820-1902 have been transferred from the National Archives to the National Immigration Archives in care of the Balch Institute (sponsored by Temple University) in Philadelphia. An ongoing indexing project is slowly producing published lists of immigrants; the first results have been the 500,000 names of Irish "famine immigrants." Public access to the original records and to the NIA database is not permitted. At this time, neither the Genealogical Library, the National Archives, nor the Ellis Island Foundation is creating a master index of passenger lists.

Contributed by Jayare Roberts, formerly a Senior Reference Consultant at the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City.

Oaths of Allegiance

The following regards the Oath of Allegiance taken in the English Colonies and is from "History of Plymouth Plantation" by William Bradford, Houghton Mifflin 1912. The following were found in footnotes on the pages cited:

The regulation of migration out of the kingdom had changed with the varying policy towards the Roman Catholics or with the engagements with foreign rulers. August 23, 1606, a proclamation required licenses to women and children under twenty-one years of age to cross the seas, a measure intended to control the flight of Catholics. An oath of allegiance was required of all regardless of sex, so migrating; and as the Pope (Paul V) by a Bull issued September 12 of the same year, prohibited English Catholics from taking an oath of allegiance, the intention of the measure becomes clear...." [V. I, p. 30]
The oath of supremacy, passed in I Eliz. c. I (1558) read as follows:
I, A.B. [this must be a Latin abbreviation for 'state your name'], do utterly testify and declare, that the queen's highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and all other her highness's dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual and ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal; and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate, hath or ought to have, any jurisdiction, powers, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen's highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities, granted or belonging to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, or united and annexed to the imperial crown of this realm.
The oath of allegiance, passed in 3 James I c. 4,5 (1606), was as follows:
I, A.B., do truely and sincerely acknowledge, professe, testifie, and declare in my conscience before god and the world, that our Sovereign Lord King James, is lawfull and rightful King of this Realme, and of all other in his Majesties Dominions and Countries; And that the Pope neither of himselfe, nor by any authorities of the Church or See of Rome, or by any meanes with any other hath any power or Authoritie to depose the King, or to dispose any of his Majesties Kingdomes, or Dominions, or to authorize any forraigne Prince to invade or annoy him, or his Countreys, or to discharge any of his Subjects of their allegiance and obedience to his Majestie, or to give any license or leave to any of them to beare Armes, raise tumult, or to offer any Violence, or hurt to his Majesties Royall Person, State, or government, or to any of his Majesties Subjects within his Majesties Dominions.

Also, I doe sweare from my heart, that notwithstanding any Declaration or sentence of Excommunication or deposition made or granted, or to be made or granted by the Pope or his Successours, or by any Authoritie derived, or pretended to be derived from him, or his See against the King, his Heires or Successours, or any absolution of the said Subjects from their obedience: I will beare faith and true allegiance to his Majestie, his Heires and Successours, and him and them will defend to the uttermost of my power, against all Conspiracies and attempts whatsoever, which shall bee made against his or their Persons, their Crowne and dignitie, by reason or colour of any such sentence or declaration or otherwise, and will doe my best endevour to disclose and make knowen unto his Majestie, his Heires and Successours, all Treasons and Traiterous conspiracies, which I shall know or heare of to be against him or any of them.

And I do further sweare, That I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure, as impious and heriticall, this damnable doctrine and position, That Princes which be Excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be deposed or murthered by their Subjects, or any whatsoever.

And I do beleeve and in conscience am resolved, that neither the Pope nor any person whatsoever, hath power to absolve mee of this Oath, or any part there-of, which I acknowledge by good faith and full authoritie to bee lawfully ministered unto mee, and doe renounce all Pardons and dispensations to the contrary. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse wordes by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sense and understanding of the same wordes, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever. And I doe make this recognition and acknowledgement heratily, willingly, and truely, upon the true faith of a Christian. So helpe me God." [V. I, pp. 79-80]


When you're checking for naturalization records, make sure that you check with the courts in all locations where your ancestor lived during his or her lifetime. Early on, say before 1880, to be naturalized, the person went to a Federal Court. Sometime after 1900, a person no longer had to go to a Federal Courthouse to be naturalized; the local county courthouse was the place to go. So, these are other places to check.

Many times minor children were naturalized with their parents and there are no separate records for them. And, in the earliest years, women did not have naturalization records. For some time, anyone who entered the U.S. under the age of 21 years was eligible to receive his Naturalization on the same day he applied for citizenship.

The naturalization process took several years, because:

American Oath - Early 1900’s

"I will, before being admitted to citizenship, renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly, by name, to the prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of which I may be at the time of admission a citizen or subject; I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy; and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and to reside permanently therein; and I certify that the photograph affixed to the duplicate and triplicate hereof is a likeness of me.

"I swear (affirm) that the statements I have made and the intentions I have expressed in this declaration of intention subscribed by me are true to the best of my knowledge and belief: So help me God"

Page content reviewed and/or updated by the Advisory Board 2022 Dec

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