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Naturalization Documents at the National Archives

Pacific Region (San Bruno)

This article was co-written by Ken Tessendorff and Dan Nealand.

Dan is an employee of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), San Bruno, California.

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Naturalization papers are among the most important of all information sources for genealogists. Depending on the date an individual went through the naturalization process, his papers may contain more specific data about him and his family than would be found in any other record group.

The list of courts where naturalizations took place across the land is very long. The various documents produced during the process may have been created by Federal, State or County courts and a combination of all of these. Naturalization records are, by law, supposed to be kept indefinitely by the courts, but this is often not the case. Generally speaking, any documents created by county or state courts are probably still on file at the county where the documents were originated, but they can also be found at state archives, museums, libraries and historical and genealogical societies. Older documents that were filed in a Federal court have probably been transferred to a regional branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


Naturalization records for U.S. citizens have been maintained starting around 1790. For U.S. citizens in California, they are dated from around 1850 forward. Prior to 1906, the papers usually contained little more than the person's name, signature, and country of origin, but it should never be taken for granted that they will not have more than that. Questions asked by individual courts varied widely across the country and it is not unusual to find the date the person left his homeland, his city or county of birth, the place where he departed his homeland, and his port and date of arrival in the United States.

In 1906 a major change was made to naturalization law. After this date an individual's papers may include his current occupation, place of residence, date and place of birth, date and place of emigration, date and port of arrival, the name of the ship he took to the United States or the name of the transportation company if he came by means other than vessel, a physical description, and the names and ages of his wife and children. His Petition for Naturalization will usually have the name and location of another court where he may have filed his Declaration of Intention to become naturalized and will often include the "book and page" where that document can be found. The Petition for Naturalization will also contain affidavits of two witnesses. The final three sections of the post-1906 Petition note whether the Petition (and therefore citizenship) was granted, denied, or the process "continued" (to be heard at a future date). If the "Petition Granted" section is filled in by the Court, the Naturalization Certificate number is noted. This means that the applicant became a U.S. citizen. To date, a copy of the Petition containing this U.S. Court notation that the Petition was granted generally serves as legal documentation of U. S. Citizenship.

Between September 27, 1906 and October 1, 1991, duplicate copies of certain naturalization documents were sent by the court to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). For more information on INS and on naturalizations dated October 1, 1991 and later, see the final portion of this article.

After circa 1930, a small photographic snapshot of the applicant can usually be found on the Declaration of Intention copy filed in the court records with the Petition for Naturalization.

Since a series of several different documents were required and could be filed in various courts anywhere in the country and since each document might contain different personal information, every attempt should be made to assemble a complete set pertinent to the particular individual. The complete set might contain these documents:

Declaration of Intention

Petition for Naturalization

Order of Court Granting Citizenship

Certificate of Naturalization

In addition to the above list, other very important documents that might be available are:

Stubs of Naturalization Certificates

Certificate of Arrival-For Naturalization Purposes


Transfer Petitions

Affidavits of Witnesses




Although it was my intent to include in this article an inventory of the naturalization documents available at the National Archives-Pacific Region, they have a great variety of items on file there and the finding aids, information pamphlets, and other items describing their holdings vary greatly as to the dates, titles, and years contained in their inventory. Without gaining access to their storage area, a complete inventory would be an extremely time consuming undertaking. Therefore, an attempt will be made to inform the reader about the indexes and other information sources available to researchers.

To prepare yourself prior to a visit to San Bruno, the following publications should be consulted:

  1. Guide to Records in the National Archives-Pacific Sierra Region San Bruno, California. This book has been reviewed and can be obtained by calling or writing the San Bruno archives. This entire publication is also on-line at:

  2. The National Archives

    The section titled, Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, deals with naturalization documents held at San Bruno. Record Groups 85 and 284 also have some information pertaining to naturalizations.

  3. The pamphlet for National Archives microfilm publication M1744, Index to Naturalization in the U. S. District Courts for the Northern District of California, 1852-ca. 1989, National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1995. Only one copy of this pamphlet is available at San Bruno, but it is only about 10 pages long and can be copied at the facility prior to your original records research visit. It contains a short history of the naturalization process, the courts involved and some of the records held at San Bruno originated by San Francisco federal courts.


  1. Records of U.S. Courts, San Francisco: This includes naturalization records of the U.S. District Court and early Circuit Court. Records are available dated 1852-1971. Naturalization records dated after 1971 remain currently in the legal custody of the U.S. District Court, San Francisco. A microfilm copy of the San Francisco U.S. Court naturalizations index is available (M1744).

  3. Additionally, National Archives microfilm publication, T717, Records of the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California and Predecessor Courts, 1851-1950 contains some early naturalizations recorded in the minute books of the District Court, Northern District of California at San Francisco. Naturalizations recorded in these minute books are supposed to be indexed in M1744. If you don't find your person in M1744, you might want to check T717 anyway as a last resort. I frankly did not look at this microfilm, but am told that you would need a date of naturalization to find the record. Usually, naturalizations recorded in minute books will have only the name of the individual and no other valuable information.

  5. Records of California Naturalizations originated by other locations than the U.S. Courts, San Francisco: For the U.S. District Court in Sacramento (known as the Northern District of California, Northern Division 1916-66; and as the Eastern District thereafter), the National Archives-San Bruno has naturalization records dated 1917-56. No naturalization records are available at National Archives-San Bruno for the U.S. District Court, Fresno. However, there are records, accessioned from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for naturalizations conducted at the Marin County Superior Court, 1852-1957 (Declarations only, 1951-57).

  7. For the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, there are naturalization records dated 1900-1960.

  9. For Nevada, National Archives-San Bruno holdings include naturalization records on microfilm for the U.S. District Court in Reno, 1868-1929 (Declarations of Intent only, 1907-29) and original records for the State District Courts in Fallon, 1877-1956 (Declarations only, 1877-1907) and Reno, 1853-1949 (Declarations only, 1853-76).

  11. Record Groups 85 (records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service) and 284 (records of the Government of American Samoa) also have some information pertaining to naturalizations. The RG 85 records, originated by offices in San Francisco and Hawaii, pertain mainly to immigration from Pacific-Asian ports of departure, cover primarily Asian-Americans, and are dated c1882-1960. RG 284 naturalization records related to immigration and naturalization in American Samoa are dated 1933-65.


    1. Microfilm publication M1744. This index consists of 165 rolls of microfilm and is supposed to have a card for each individual naturalized at the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco). It serves as an index to naturalizations done at:

    2. A. Northern District though 1916
      B. Southern Division of the Northern District, 1917-1966
      C. Northern District, 1966-1973
      D. Northern Division of the Northern District, 1973-1989
      E. Special Circuit Court, 1855-1863
      F. Tenth Circuit Court, 1863-1866
      G. Ninth Circuit Court for the District of California, 1866-1886
      H. Circuit Court of the Northern District of California 1886-1911

      It does not index the records of the Eastern District, Northern Division, Sacramento or the Eastern District, Southern Division, Fresno.

    3. Microfilm publication T1220, Selected indexes to Naturalization Records of the U. S. Circuit and District courts, Northern District of California, 1852-1928. 3 rolls. It is unclear whether M1744 supersedes and includes those items indexed in T1220. To be safe, it might be wise to check both microfilm publications.

    4. If you find the person you are seeking in indexes 1 or 2 above, be sure to copy all of the information it contains. You should probably make a photographic copy of the page, since any and all of the information on it may be necessary to find the copy of the original document in storage. Show the copy to a National Archives employee and ask that the original document be brought to the research room. If you have not yet applied for and received a researcher identification card that will allow you access to the research room, now is the time to do that.

    5. For the Nevada U.S. District Court records mentioned above, an index is available on film for U.S. District Court-Reno naturalizations dated 1900-50 (National Archives-San Bruno publication I-30, roll 21).

    7. For the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, an index is available for naturalization petitions, 1900-29.

    9. Each U.S. District Court in the region usually maintains an index covering its naturalization records dating from September 1991 back to at least October 1906. For information, write to the Court of interest using the U.S. District court addresses listed below. If you are not able to find your person in a relevant index, but have found other information that leads you to believe that the document you are seeking is at San Bruno within the records of a particular court, check the finding aids for Record Group 21 further. If you can narrow the date period during which your ancestor was naturalized, very limited indexes may be at the front of some naturalization volumes, especially those covering early naturalizations.

    11. There is also a strange looking little book on the bookshelf next to the desk where the Archives employees sit in the microfilm reading room. It has no title, but the first page reads SUPPLEMENTAL NATURALIZATION DATA to and INCLUDING June 1, 1923. It appears to be a list of foreign born voters for San Francisco and also appears to give the date and place where they were naturalized, but I would not guarantee that this is actually the information that the book is providing. It covers a period of about 50 years or more. Although I have never been able to find one particular ancestor in any of the naturalization indexes for San Francisco courts, I did find him listed in this book with a date of Oct.23, '02, S.F., Cal. It is possible that he was naturalized at the Superior Court in San Francisco on this date. If so, his records were destroyed in 1906 with all the other Superior Court records. Had he been naturalized in some other place, his records might still be available. If I found a listing in this book that appeared to be one of my ancestors and it showed a city or county outside of San Francisco, I would attempt to find his papers at that location. Here are a few typical listing from that book:
      1. Risio, Giuseppe--845 Montgomery Ave..........Italy,--Sept. 20 '99, Boston, Mass.
        Robarts, Harry Philip--31 Parnassus........India--June 30 '99, Humboldt Co., Cal.
        Kramer, Jos. Peter--146 Cleary............Germany Mar. 23, '96, Garland Co., Ark.
        Roach, Patrick--3808 18th St...............Ireland--April 8, '79, Santa Rosa, Cal.
        Krasa, Jacob--297 9th St....................................Austria--Father's Nat.
        Krause, Arthur Gustav--1415 Vermont.........England--Sept. 18  '89, Albany, N. Y. 
        Krause, John Henry--236 Day............Germany, March 1893, Council Bluffs, Iowa
      If all else fails, but you have a definite idea of the exact day and court where you ancestor was naturalized, go through the appropriate naturalization book or box page by page until you find the record for your person. It is always possible that your person was not put into the index or you missed his card. This quotation from the pamphlet describing M1744 contains good advice. "Although the index cards are arranged in alphabetical order overall, they often are not in strict alphabetical order due to misfiling. As a result, it may be necessary to search forward and backward from the place where a particular name would properly be filed."



If you are planning a research visit to the National Archives-San Bruno to search for original naturalization records, it is best to phone in advance for an appointment. This will allow the archives to arrange for the best possible service during your visit, including a reservation for you in the original records research room, where seating space is limited. Appointments and reservations are NOT needed, however, for research done only in the microfilm research room- for example, looking up naturalization citations on microfilmed naturalization indexes (see below). For an appointment or for more information about the National Archives-San Bruno, call 415-876-9018. Claude Hopkins and Rose Mary Kennedy are two National Archives staff who deal most frequently with researchers seeking court naturalization records.

To view the documents in the original records research room, you will need to fill out a researcher registration and provide to the Archives some current Identification, such as a valid driver' license.

If the person you wish to research at San Bruno was naturalized NOT at San Francisco federal courts, but at U.S. District Courts in Sacramento, Reno, or Honolulu, the best procedure is to write to those courts before visiting San Bruno, to obtain the naturalization Petition/Declaration number. The addresses of those courts are given in the "Federal Courts" section below.


The National Archives-San Bruno does not have the resources to search for Naturalization records for which it has no consolidated index. When you have obtained a naturalization Petition or Declaration number from the relevant U.S. District Court and have determined that the records are stored at the National Archives-San Bruno; or if you believe your ancestor was naturalized in the San Francisco federal courts during the period 1852-1971, you may wish to request a copy of the documents from the archives by mail. Write to the following address:

Attention: Historical Naturalizations
National Archives and Records Administration
Pacific Region- San Francisco
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno CA 94066

Be sure to include the name of the naturalized citizen, the date and federal court of naturalization, and especially for non-San Francisco federal courts, the naturalization Petition and/or Declaration number. If records are located, copies are usually available for the minimum mail-order fee, payable by check or money order to the "National Archives Trust Fund."


  1. If you have no idea where your ancestor's papers might be, always check for the records in counties where he lived. Most naturalizations were done by state and county courts, especially prior to 1906, and the records are usually still available from the court clerks in the appropriate county. The California State Archives, 1020 O Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; telephone 916-653-7715, also has early naturalization records created by some non-Federal courts in California. In addition, county or local historical societies, libraries and archives may hold naturalization records.

  3. The records at the National Archives-San Bruno are for mostly Federal courts in the region, but the Federal courts may have been outside the San Francisco area. If you don't find your person at the county clerk's office, there is a chance that the records are at the National Archives. More information about naturalizations that were done by Federal courts within the region is in the section on records holdings at the National Archives-San Bruno above, and in the section on "Federal Courts" below.

  5. Try to locate the court where your ancestor was naturalized in a voter's registration list from the appropriate county before you attempt to find the naturalization papers. The voter's list is often called the "Great Register." Great Registers for various counties in California will often tell you the exact name and location of the court that did the naturalization as well as the naturalization date. In addition, a Great Register may contain information not present on pre-1906 naturalization petitions or certificates, including the person's age, occupation, and street address.

  7. If all the papers were not filed in the same court, always try to follow up and find the entire set. It is not unusual, for example, to find the Declaration of Intention in an eastern State and the final papers in California. You will never know what different information is on the different documents until you see them all.

  9. It is possible that your ancestors may have started or finished their naturalization process in a state close to California. At particular times during the period covered by M1744, Nevada and Oregon were under the jurisdiction of a circuit court, so a few records from these states may also be included in the documents available at the National Archives, San Bruno. Information about that possibility is also contained in the pamphlet about M1744.

  11. Starting in 1906, the Petition for Naturalization in the section subtitled, Order of Court Admitting Petitioner, allowed for a name change to take place and be approved by the court during the naturalization process. Unfortunately, I have never seen a Petition with a name change, so I don't know whether a person's papers would be indexed under his original or new name.


All federal courts within the region retain legal custody of naturalization records more recent than those within the holdings of the National Archives- San Bruno. Those records may be dated as recently as September 30, 1991. Each federal court also maintains indexes for naturalization records which it originated. Relevant addresses and information:
  1. Attention: Naturalizations

  2. Office of the Clerk
    U.S. District Court
    Northern District of California
    P.O. Box 36060
    San Francisco CA 94102

    The U.S. District Court (USDC), San Francisco has a microfilm copy of the naturalization index also available at San Bruno, for naturalization records dated c.1852-1991. The court has retained legal custody of Naturalization records dated 1971-September, 1991.

    Other federal courts within the region (listed below) retain the original card indexes for their naturalization records. Generally, historical inquiries should first be directed TO THOSE COURTS in order to obtain naturalization petition/declaration of intent numbers for records held by the National Archives-San Bruno. Their addresses are as follows:

  3. Attention: Naturalizations

  4. Office of the Clerk U.S. District Court
    Eastern District of California- Sacramento
    650 Capitol Mall, Room 2546
    Sacramento CA 95814

    USDC Sacramento has naturalization records dated c1957-September 1991.

  5. Attention: Naturalizations

  6. Office of the Clerk
    U.S. District Court
    District of Nevada-Reno
    400 South Virginia Street, Room 301
    Reno, NV 89501

    USDC Reno has original naturalization records dated 1868-September 1991. The National Archives-San Bruno has microfilm copies of some of the court's early naturalization records (see above).

  7. Attention: Naturalizations

  8. Office of the Clerk
    U.S. District Court
    District of Hawaii
    P.O. Box 50129
    Honolulu, HI 96850

    Note: USDC Hawaii's index dates from 1900 forward. They retain legal custody of naturalization records dated 1960-September 1991.

  9. Attention: Naturalizations

  10. Office of the Clerk
    U.S. District Court
    Eastern District of California- Fresno
    U.S. Courthouse, Room 5408
    1130 "O" Street
    Fresno CA 93721

    Note: the Fresno Court retains all its naturalization records; none are held by the National Archives-San Bruno.

  11. Attention: Naturalizations

  12. Office of the Clerk
    U.S. District Court
    Northern District of California- San Jose
    280 South First Street, Room 2112
    San Jose, CA 95113
    telephone 408-291-7783.

    This court has legal custody of all its naturalization records, dated 1973-1991. None of those records are currently within the custody of the National Archives-San Bruno.


    Court Naturalization records held by U.S. Courts, as well as court naturalization records held by the National Archives, are public records. However, access to records held by INS is not public, but is controlled by that agency. The INS in Washington DC maintains an indexed, centralized set of duplicate Naturalization Petitions, Declarations of Intent, and Certificates of Citizenship for citizens naturalized September 27, 1906-March 31, 1956. These are called "C files" and include data only for naturalized citizens. Beginning on April 1, 1956, INS used "A Files," Alien Investigative Case Files, to document naturalization-related investigations of both citizens and non-citizens.

    As of October, 1991 all responsibility for naturalization documentation passed to the Immigration and Naturalization Service per the Immigration Act of 1990. After September 30, 1991, federal courts ceased to create naturalization documents and INS became the sole originator of all naturalization records.

    Researchers wishing to request copies of naturalization documents in INS custody must file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with that agency. The best way to do this is to use an INS FOIA Form, form G-639, which can be obtained at INS district offices. The form shows that a great deal of specific information (more than can be listed here) is requested by INS to do a search. The FOIA form should be sent to The Immigration and Naturalization Service, Washington, DC 20536.

    INS FOIA form G-639 can be obtained from any INS district office. Many district offices have 24-hour telephone lines for information and form orders. Consult the "U.S. Government" section of your telephone directory to find the nearest INS district office.

    For more information on obtaining INS documents please see the write-up by Ken Tessendorf.


    Newman, John J. American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790-1985. Family History Section, Indiana Historical Society, 1985.

    Schaefer, Christina K., Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore MD, 1997.

    Szucs, Loretto Dennis, The SOURCE: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Ancestry Incorporated, Salt Lake City, 1997.

    Coy, Owen C., Guide to the County Archives of California. Sacramento: California Historical Survey Commission, 1919.