Citizenship papers are a treasure trove

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image1The recent documentary “The Italian Americans” discussed the period at the beginning of World War II. The government decided for security reasons that certain foreign-born American residents would be classified as “enemy aliens”. These were people whose home countries were at war with us. Also, these people had not filed for citizenship. Obviously, many Italian Americans fit this classification until the practice was ended in 1943 when Mussolini’s government fell.

There were many reasons Italian immigrants opted to not become American citizens in the years leading up to World War II. Many wanted to return to Italy after they had earned enough money here; many others knew no English and did not think they could qualify. Some found the process to daunting, especially if they had limited education.

The good news for those of us researching our ancestors is that many Italian-Americans DID choose to become citizens, which gives us a wonderful set of papers with useful information. Quite a few began the citizenship process during the war in an effort to get their name off the enemies list. Many others became citizens before and after the war.

So how do we find naturalization papers? First we need to know where our ancestor went to apply. How do we find this? It’s easy. There is an index to naturalizations on that points the way.

Here is the link. Click here to be able to search two overlapping indexes that contain all the Chicago area courts where your ancestor could have gone.

It is best to search using the Italian form of the first name. Click on the camera icon under “image” and you will see the card for that person.

The card has more detail than the index, usually including a birth date and an address. Compare to data you already have, to determine if it is the correct person. You need to copy everything from this card (except the witnesses) and you’re ready to look. “Title and location of court” is the first piece of information you need. There are a few choices they could have used. Circuit Court Cook County and Superior Court Cook County are two choices used frequently in the 1920s and before. If either of these are the courts, you need to contact the clerk of that court (or use the web site) and order copies of the naturalization file. You must have the correct petition number to do this. It is listed as “ceritificate no.” and says “P-58030” in this example. So ask for Petition 58030.

If the court is “U.S. District” then it is a federal court and you should be able to find MOST of these on familysearch directly. The images for the petitions are not indexed but they are on-line and can be browsed. Since you will have the correct petition number, you can easily find the correct volume number and find your petition. Here’s how.

Here is a different Abbinante who was naturalized through the U.S. District Court.

If you find your ancestor in the “Eastern District” index, the card looks like this. Unfortunately, they don’t always show the birth date. But the petition number is obvious (321432 in this example). All of the cards in the Eastern District index are U.S. District Court. So now we need the link to browse the Petitions themselves.

Each line above is a llink to the volume (v. 484), and the petition numbers in the range next to it (98951-99250). You need to scroll through these until you find the range of petitions that contains 321432. Click that link.

There is a small image, but there is a + and — to the left that will zoom in and out. The little box will toggle full screen but you can’t do that yet. Above the image is a spot called “Image 1 of 1075”

The 1 inside the box is the current page number. There are 1075 images in this volume. Do we have to look at 1075 pages to find ours? Not at all.

There are several kinds of documents you can find in these pages, including a certificate of arrival, oath of allegiance, loyalty oath (during WW II), declaration of intention, and most importantly, the petition for naturalization. We need to use the petition numbers to know where we are.

The volume we selected for this example includes petitions 321201 through 321450. So there are 250 petitions in this volume. 1075 pages are also in this volume so there are on average 4 pages per petition. This number can vary a little. We need 321432 which is much closer to the end of the volume than the beginning. So we can skip over a lot of pages and try to guess where we are by changing that page 1 to another number much closer to the end of the volume, and then flip a few pages looking for the nearest petition. Petition 321432 is 18 petitions from the end of the volume, and about 4 pages per petition. So I would use that to estimate that I need to try about 72 pages from the end of the volume. 1075 total minus 72 = 1003. I’ll type 1000. It doesn’t matter at this point.

So I click “Go” and it takes me to page 1000. This page is not a petition but it does have a petition number listed on it. It is 321433. Not bad! I’m only one petition too high. So I click the left arrow to go page by page 999, 998, 997. It took until 994 to get to the beginning of the petition for Anthony Abbinante, 321432.

The stamped 321432 on the upper right corner is the correct petition number. We found him!

Now, click “download” or “print” which can be found just above the petition number.

You should probably click the right arrow and go back to page 995 to download or print the second page of the petition. Then you should go back to page 993 and see if it applies to Anthony Abbinante.

Next month, I will go over the types of documents you can find and what’s on them!

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!


About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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