Declarations and Naturalizations - St. Clair County, Illinois

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Declarations and Naturalizations - St. Clair County, Illinois

The Process, Extant Papers and Records, and Hints for Locating Your Ancestor

©Diane Renner Walsh

Naturalization was, and still is, a voluntary act. Usually, naturalization was a three-step process. 1. Declaration of Intent filed. 2. Petition for Naturalization filed. 3. Oath taken. Upon meeting residency requirements, an ancestor may have filed the Declaration of Intent (First papers) in one court, and subsequently file a Petition for Naturalization / Citizenship (Second papers) in a different court, sometimes in a different state. Sometimes a person only filed a Declaration and failed to complete the process.

Naturalization-related documents could be filed in any court that retained a written record at the municipal, county, state, or federal level. These variables make finding the documents difficult. During some wars, the Declaration step was waved in return for military service with honorable discharge. Derivative citizenship was granted for women and children when the husband or father completed all the steps. Consequently, documents for women are rarely found before 1922 when the law changed. Children, upon reaching adulthood, might later file a minor's petition for naturalization. If a name change took place during the process, this change will usually be noted on the Petition.

More detailed explanations and a reading list.

Naturalization-related documents, indexes, and record books for St. Clair County are at several locations in manuscript or microfilm form. No one location has all the various papers or records.


Papers refer to documents filed in court. Today these papers may be in manuscript or microfilm form.
Record usually refers to the court's record book. The Court Record is usually limited to a name, number, and date.

In general, Declaration of Intent Papers and Petition to Naturalize Papers BEFORE 1906 include little genealogical information. No ship name or arrival date, no names of family other than the applicant, no town of birth in the old country.

Papers AFTER 1906 provide a wealth of genealogical information, although the extent may vary by document or time period. When possible, obtain both the Declaration of Intent Paper, and the Petition to Naturalize Paper. The Declaration or Petition after 1906 may include the ship name, date of arrival, town and date of birth, and names of wife and children or siblings. It was in 1906 that the federal government standardized the naturalization process and documentation. Today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service handles the entire path toward citizenship.

Circuit Court 1816 – 1906East St. Louis City Court 1874 – 1906County Court 1864–1906
Circuit Court 1906 – circa 1957East St. Louis City Court 1906 – circa 1950U. S. District Court 1906 to present

Know Your Ancestor's Year of Naturalization Before You Begin – Jump to Hints




View an East St. Louis City Court Declaration 1890 for Mr. Adelé jpg | jpg | .pdf 516KB
View an East St. Louis City Court Minor's Petition and Oath of Naturalization 1903 for Mr. Abbott jpg | .pdf 501KB
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  • East St. Louis City Court Naturalization Record 1876 – 1899, and the East St. Louis City Court Declaration Record 1876 – 1899. These books are on microfilm at IRAD in Carbondale. These Record books include only the number, name, court term, and year of declaration or naturalization.

    The Office of the Circuit Clerk at the courthouse in Belleville also maintains a set of microfilm. See reel 9 sequences 200001 and 200002. The microfilm reels may be searched on site. Microfilm in this Office cover other years before 1906 but all are cumbersome to use because finding aids do not specify the court's name for each record set. Check with the Circuit Clerk office for access since may change over the years.

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    Naturalization-related Papers and Record Books after 1906

    CERTIFICATE of ARRIVAL Required after 29 June 1906

    A "Certificate Of Arrival" generated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) may be among naturalization documents. Aliens who arrived in the U.S. after 29 June 1906 were subject to this additional naturalization step which required their immigration record be verified. All certificates are typewritten, not all certificates of arrival were preserved by all courts.

    The title of the document has frequently led to misunderstanding, causing some to state that certificates of arrival were issued to immigrants upon their arrival in the U.S. This was not the case. This, and the following from Loretto Szucs and Sandra Luebking, editors, The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2006), p. 403.

    • First, the immigrant applied for naturalization, sometimes five or more years after entry.
    • Next, federal naturalization officials had to verify the immigrant's lawful admission to the country with his official immigration record, usually a ship passenger list.
    • Once the immmigration record was located, arrival information was certified on a form called a Certificate of Arrival.
    • The certificate was then forwarded by federal naturalization officials to the court where the immigrant had applied for citizenship. The certificate served as proof of the immigrant's eligibility to naturalize.

    View a Certificate of Arrival for Charles Goldberg, whose name upon arrival, was Schaje Goldberg.




    1906 to 1944

    1944 to Present

      An index for Declarations and Petitions, 1944 – present filed with this court is available on-site, U.S. District Court, 750 Missouri avenue, East St. Louis, IL 62201.

      Since the 1990s, a person files an application for naturalization with the INS in Chicago. INS visits the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis three times a year to interview applicants from the metropolitan region. When the process is complete, the naturalization ceremony is at the District Court. Papers are kept with INS. [Conversation with the author 1995] Recent files may be closed for privacy reasons.

      Photocopies may be requested through the INS Genealogy service. See the Genealogy link in the left column on the INS website.
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    Back to Courts

    1. Determine your ancestor's place of residency during the time he would have filed a declaration or petition.

      The federal census will show the county an ancestor lived. Many St. Clair county immigrants spent a few years in St. Louis or elsewhere prior to settling here. The St. Louis County Library has naturalization resources 1816-1941 for the St. Louis area.

    2. Determine the year of naturalization using other source documents and files.

      Federal census population schedules for 1830, 1870, 1900, and 1910 include naturalization related questions asked of immigrants. Be sure to obtain an image online or photocopy from microfilm of the complete schedule. Indexes and partial extracts seldom include more than a name, place, age, and relationship.

      World War I Draft Registration Cards include naturalization questions. Those for St. Clair County are on microfilm at the Belleville Public Library Archives, and are digitized on some fee-based genealogical websites. The St. Louis County Library website outlines questions asked for each Draft. Click here to explore WWI Draft Cards.

      Homestead Applications include naturalization information. If your ancestor applied for federal land in states to our west under the 1862 Homestead Act, naturalization papers may be included in his land entry case file. Read more about The Homestead Act (off site at NARA) and how to search this record group.

      Passports may include the year and court naturalized. Read more about Passports as a genealogical resource (off site at NARA).
      • The St. Louis County Library has U.S. Index to Passport Applications, 1810 - 1817; 1830 - 1831; 1834 - 1906.
      • Passports indexed and digitized may be available at fee-based online genealogy websites.

      Newspapers sometimes ran lists of new citizens, although names may be rendered differently than in court.
      Some news articles which appeared in Belleville and East St. Louis newspapers are indexed in the Belleville Public Library Archives newspaper abstract files.
      Descendants may preserve an immigrant ancestor's declaration or naturalization documents.

    For further reading see:

    • The brief explanations on the Illinois State Archives website (process, applicable Illinois and Federal laws). A description of the type of information in these various documents and record books is also in IRAD's Record Description section of Circuit Clerk documents on its website.

    • An excellent naturalization article at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website. U.S. District Court records held by NARA nationwide are highlighted.

    • John Newman's American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790–1985, (Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Society, 1985), and the newer version, American Naturalization Records, 1790–1990 (North Salt Lake, UT: Heritage Quest, 1998);

    • John P. Colleta's They Came in Ships, (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Inc., 1993);

    • Loretto Dennis Szucs' They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins, (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Inc., 1998).

    • St. Clair County, Illinois Research and Resources: A Genealogist's Guide, available from SCCGS.

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    St. Clair County (Illinois) Genealogical Society
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    Updated 17 January 2015