UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
When people first came to the United States they had to go through a formal process to become a citizen. This was known as the naturalization process. Local, state, and federal courts were authorized to administer the process. There were two steps that involved a court. The first step was to file a declaration of intention (first papers) to become a citizen. Then there would be a waiting period or residency, ranging from a minimum of two years to seven years. Third, the person would petition the court for citizenship (second papers). If the petition was accepted, the person was admitted as a citizen and given a citizenship paper, often a certificate. In most cases, the Area Research Center has the records documenting the declaration and petition phases if the person applied through a county-based court. Sometimes there are naturalization certificates and ancillary documents.
The records are arranged by county, each of which is accompanied by indexes. These indexes usually point to the petitions (second papers). Working backward is the most efficient method because if an individual is found in the index, their petition should indicate where and when they filed their declaration (first papers). 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 or the individual declaration books themselves. This is an important step because people would often file the first papers then not complete the process. The declaration was all that was required to be a voting citizen in Wisconsin until 1908.
A pivotal year to the naturalization process was in 1906 when the Basic Naturalization Act was passed. This provided for federal supervision of the naturalization process through the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Forms became much more detailed and standardized. Until then each county did things a little differently.
As a general rule, women and children were considered the property of the man that they came to the country with and did not file papers on their own until the 1920s. They were automatically naturalized with the men. Sometimes young males 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 his naturalization with a federal district court. 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 Archives would have the records.
Don't give up if you can't find naturalization papers here. Men did funny things sometimes, like getting naturalized with their brother who settled in Minnesota.
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Burnett County) : Naturalization Records, 1870-1953. (Burnett Series 23)
Wisconsin. Circuit Court (Pierce County) : Naturalization records, 1857-1963. (Pierce Series 128)