Kentucky Naturalization and Citizenship

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Naturalization is the process of granting citizenship privileges and responsibilities to foreign-born residents. Naturalization papers are an important source of information about an immigrant’s place of origin and his or her foreign and Americanized names, residence, and date of arrival.

Immigrants to the United States have never been required to apply for citizenship. Of those who did apply, many did not complete the requirements for citizenship. Evidence that an immigrant completed citizenship requirements can be found in censuses, court minutes, homestead records, passports, voting registers, and military papers.

Various types of records were created during the naturalization process, including declarations of intention, petitions, and oaths of allegiance. Each record can give different details about the person, such as age, country of birth, ethnic background, date and port of arrival, ship name, previous residences, or current address. Even if an immigrant ancestor did not complete the process and become a citizen, he or she may have filed an application. These application records still exist and can be very helpful.

Records for earlier years usually contain less information than those after 1906, when the federal court system for naturalization was revised. Details such as birth date and place, physical description, and marital status may be given. See the United States Research Outline for a more complete discussion of the naturalization process and the records created.

In the colonial era, residents of Kentucky declared their allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia by appearing before any court of record. A 1790 federal law allowed immigrants to follow a similar procedure at any United States circuit or district court, state supreme court, or other local court of record.

For a comprehensive list of Kentucky naturalization records, see:

Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing, 1997. (FHL book 973 P4s.) Pages 143 to 146 cover Kentucky. For each county this book lists the courts where naturalizations took place, the years the records cover, where the original records are housed, and the Family History Library’s first film numbers where applicable. The introduction discusses the naturalization process, the types of records created, and the usual genealogical content of each record.

Nineteenth-century Kentucky naturalizations are usually found in circuit or county court order books. If an ancestor lived in or near large cities or near a city where the United States courts convened, naturalization records may be found in the United States District Court. For the rural areas of Kentucky, naturalizations are more likely recorded by the circuit court clerk in each county. They may be found in the circuit court order books, where they may be mixed in with other court proceedings. A few counties kept separate records for naturalizations. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records of some Kentucky counties. Naturalization records can be found using the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under: