UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
When non native individuals come to the United States, they may voluntarily decide to become American citizens. The required steps are known as the naturalization process. A pivotal year to the naturalization process was when the Basic Naturalization Act was passed in 1906. This Act provided for federal supervision of the naturalization process through Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), after which, forms became much more detailed and standardized. Until then, each county did things a little differently. Local, state, and federal courts were authorized to administer the process prior to September 27, 1906.
There were two steps to the naturalization process that could have involved lower courts. The first step was to file a declaration of intention (first papers) to become a citizen after residing in the U.S. for at least two years. Then there would be a waiting period or residency, generally at least three years. Following this period, an individual could petition the court for citizenship (second papers). The two steps may not have taken place in the same court.
If the petition was accepted, the person was admitted as a citizen and two copies of the certificate or citizenship paper would be created; one was given to the individual naturalized, and prior to 1906, the other was filed with the lower court. In most cases, the Area Research Center has the records documenting the declaration and petition phases of the naturalization process for individuals who applied through a county-based court. Sometimes there are naturalization certificates and ancillary documents as well.
The records are arranged by county, each of which is accompanied by indexes that usually point to the petitions. Working backwards is often the most efficient method because if an individual is found in the index to the petitions, their petition should indicate where and when they filed their declaration. Sometimes the declaration is even attached to their petition. If the individual is not listed in an index, then consult an index to the declarations if available or the individual declaration books themselves. Keep in mind that even if you don't find your person in the petitions, they may be located in the declarations. People would often file their declaration but then not complete the process by filing the petition. The declaration was all that was required to be a voting citizen in Wisconsin until 1908.
As a general rule, women and children did not file papers on their own until the 1920s. They were automatically naturalized with their men. Sometimes young men would file their own papers when they reached adulthood.
If the naturalization date is unknown, consult the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. census. There are categories on these censuses regarding year of immigration to the U.S. and status of naturalization process (the abbreviation “Al” stood for alien, meaning no papers had been filed yet; the abbreviation “Pa” stood for papers, meaning a declaration of intention had been filed; and the abbreviation “Na” stood for naturalization, meaning the person had supposedly finished the process). Remember, the data from the censuses may not be always totally accurate, but it may provide some good clues.
Another point to remember is that an individual may have filed their naturalization with a federal district court or court outside of the county within which they resided. If this is the case for someone from this area, then the person would need to contact the National Archives Great Lakes Region office in Chicago. The closest federal court was in St. Paul, so a great majority of people who lived in this part of the state filed their naturalization papers through a county court, which means the ARC would not have the records.
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Burnett County) : Naturalization Records, 1870-1953. (Burnett Series 23)
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Pierce County) : Naturalization records, 1857-1963. (Pierce Series 128)
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Polk County) : Naturalization records, 1855-1954. (Polk Series 32)
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Saint Croix County), 1850-1954. (St. Croix Series 62)