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New York City opens new naturalizations database

Posted by Sean Daly on Jul 12, 2023
Photo of an immigrant over a naturalization document

Naturalization documents are rich in information for genealogists. Did your European immigrants settle in New York City? The boroughs (counties) of Queens and the Bronx have just opened a new online database with 400,000 fresh color scans never before online, with more boroughs to come!

In New York City, the borough courts of Queens and the Bronx, the Queens Public Library, and New York State court system Division of Technology have worked together with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission in Washington DC to create a free platform with over 400,000 naturalization dossiers from 1794 to 1952 (read the press release). The database, online now after four years in the making, is indexed and searchable (see below for search tips and some bugs to avoid). These are public records that are online for the first time. A few of the dossiers even have photographs!

Each downloadable PDF may contain a combination of an immigrant’s Declaration of Intention, Petition for Naturalization, Certificate of Arrival, Certificate of Naturalization, Oath of Allegiance, or other documents. Note that naturalization could be started in one county or borough, and finalized in another (see below for an overview of naturalization processes).

Screenshot of
Over 400,000 documents from 1794 to 1952 for the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx are online now at, or access the search engine directly at
Anton Goransson of Sweden first visited New York in 1891. Forty years later, he applied for citizenship for himself and his wife and adult child who joined him from Sweden before 1936, when he was admitted as a citizen.

Obtaining historical naturalization papers for the boroughs of New York City from the county courts — whether for genealogy, or for legal reasons such as proof of citizenship or origin — was severely hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Court officials had previously recognized the advantages of digitizing and making available these historical records, including reducing the workload of court archivists. This project started with an inventory and organization phase prior to digitization, indexing, and the building of the platform.

More boroughs and counties on the way!

The site and its database has been designed to incorporate naturalization dossiers from other boroughs of New York City and counties of New York State. Richmond County (Staten Island) is planning digitization, and upstate Cortland and Onondaga counties have expressed interest. The projects are dependent upon funding; once this is in place, digitization and indexing — done by an outside supplier, then checked by court archivists — will take from 18 to 24 months.

Manhattan and Brooklyn county court files? These two boroughs of New York City were more populous than Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island and therefore have a significantly higher volume of naturalization records. It’s possible these boroughs will join the New York State Unified Courts platform — after all, the courts already use integrated platforms statewide — but two years at least would likely be necessary in the event funding can be obtained. Remember that naturalization could be started in one county and completed in another!

Not many Declaration of Intention documents in the database have a photo, but among those that do, some are wonderful.

Existing online resources about New York City area naturalizations

It’s worth noting that a number of New York State naturalization file collections are already available online, sourced from the US National Archives and Records Administration which has a useful finding aid. That said, NARA’s records include federal, but not state or county naturalization records post-1906 (the earlier state and county records are available, but are generally uninformative one-pagers without wife, children, immigration, or precise origin). Of course, a naturalization dossier finalized in federal court will likely have the first papers if filed previously in county court. But in cases where the whole process happened in Queens or the Bronx, the new portal is well worth a visit!

Geneanet partner FamilySearch has an informative wiki page about such resources, while Geneanet parent company offers several collections (subscription required):

Tip: when you land on a digitized page through a search at FamilySearch or, always scroll to the previous and following pages, as a complete naturalization dossier may contain as many as 20 pages!

The New York based German Genealogy Group (GGG) nonprofit association is an excellent free resource for NYC genealogy, and not just Germans!

An excellent overview and searchable indexes of naturalizations in the New York City area can be found at the free German Genealogy Group (GGG) site. In particular, the GGG indexes for Queens and the Bronx can help you prepare a search on These indexes, and others for NYC births, marriages, deaths, etc. are all easy to search, with wildcards, date ranges, and borough selection.

NYC, the portal to the United States for Europeans

New York City was the principal, but by no means the only, port of immigration from Europe to the United States from around 1840 until 1924, when the Immigration Act (the Johnson-Reed Act) severely curtailed immigration from non-English speaking countries (cf. our 2-part article Finding Your European Immigrant Ancestor’s Ship). As the federal processing facility opened in 1892 on Ellis Island in New York harbor, replacing New York State’s Castle Garden processing center, annual numbers of immigrants climbed continuously until 1907 when an astonishing 1 million immigrants arrived. Germans, Irish, Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Armenians, Greeks, and others landed in New York City. Some boarded trains and headed West to farmland; others moved in with family members already present in NYC.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island c.1900-1910. Library of Congress.
Hester St, the Lower East Side, 1902. New York’s immigrant wards were crowded, noisy, and unsanitary. The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn (Kings County), and Richmond (Staten Island) were greener and quieter. Library of Congress.

In the decades following their arrival, many immigrants, wishing to escape the crowded and unsanitary conditions — diseases claimed many immigrant children — of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Hell’s Kitchen Wards, moved to better housing in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Richmond (Staten Island), which had all been “consolidated” into today’s New York City in 1898.

When Queens was “consolidated” into NYC in 1898 (and eastern Queens was subsequently carved out into Nassau County), there were towns amid farmers’ fields. The borough’s towns grew into neighborhoods as the farmland became housing developments. The red numbers are Wards, an administrative division used at the time. Today, Queens remains a very diverse borough, the home of many immigrants, many from Asia. New York Public Library, 1903.
The Bronx was quite close to upper Manhattan and street numbering was even carried over the Harlem River. New York Public Library, 1900.

Naturalization: the path to US citizenship

American naturalization in the immigration period is a complex topic:

  • Naturalization until the 1880s was often a simple matter of appearing before a state or local judge, with minimal information recorded (no wife, children, town of origin, …)
  • But later, naturalization involved two key steps: a Declaration of Intention (“first papers”) and a Petition for Naturalization, often with supporting documents such as a witness statement or Certificate of Arrival. An Oath of Allegiance was signed and a precious Certificate of Naturalization issued
  • Derivative citizenship: naturalization of women and children derived from their husband’s or father’s status. This had perverse effects: a widow formerly naturalized through her marriage to a US citizen could lose her US citizenship if she married an alien!
  • Minors: Immigrants who arrived as children, but without a naturalized father present, had an expedited path to citizenship at adulthood; this sometimes encouraged birthdate fudging
  • State or local courts continued to award citizenship but from 1906-1956, those courts were required to send copies to the federal government’s Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in Washington DC (these are “C-files”, more information below)
  • Federal courts handled naturalizations too; in 1933, the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was formed and from then on handled most naturalizations in New York.
  • The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) federal department holds different types of immigrant case files, all offline: Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files), 1906-1956; Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2), 1940-1944; Visa Files, 1924-1944; Registry Files, 1929-1944; Alien Case Files (A-Files), 1944 to 1951
  • Note that some Petitions for Naturalization were rejected.
  • Post-1952 records were maintained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service until 2003, after which by its successor agency US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • The 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 US federal censuses, and the 1905, 1915, and 1925 New York State censuses, provide clues to immigration year and naturalization status, be sure to crosscheck assumed dates of naturalization with these censuses!
  • Name changes: It’s a myth that names were changed at Ellis Island, but immigrants who wanted to anglicize their names often settled on their new name when applying for naturalization.

For nearly every immigrant, the old country — with its tithes, landowners, famines, conscriptions, pogroms, or wars — had been left behind for good. Most immigrants sooner or later sought American citizenship through naturalization, although of course some never did. It’s important to note that for some time, naturalization only concerned men, heads of families; their wives and children derived citizenship from the men. Women had the right to be naturalized, but varying laws and their interpretations by the courts often meant that it was complicated to do so. It’s not uncommon to locate a record where a woman gives the oath of allegiance and renunciation (of her former European potentate), with no previous paperwork. Following the Expatriation Act of 1907, there were cases of US-born women deprived of their US citizenship if they married an alien, irrespective of any foreign laws governing the alien’s marriage, effectively rendering the woman stateless. Of course, women could not even vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. Womens’ naturalization issues were reduced with the Married Women’s Act (the Cable Act) of 1922.

Watch out for the flakiness of the “Petition #” field! Prefer name searches instead.

Tips for searching

As always, unless you get lucky and find a document right off the bat, your database search will be an iterative process with the goal of reducing search hits to a manageable list of results for inspection.

It’s early days for which went live on June 29, and hopefully some improvements to the interface and search handling will be forthcoming. Here are some tips to get the most out of this useful new tool for NYC genealogists:

  • The search screen has a direct URL which you may wish to bookmark:
  • It’s best to search by names, as there are issues with the “Petition #” field — numbers are stored as text with or without one or more leading zeros, and the search engine does not trim these, so “3591” will fail to return “003591” and vice versa.
  • The “Petition #” field actually contains the number of either a petition, a declaration, or a dossier (numbers stored “1.301” or “15.93” for example), depending on what was found in the files. In other words, if there was only a Declaration on file for the county, that is the number entered in the field (the petition, if it exists, would likely be in a different county, or in a federal court). Some records have no number at all. Note that the “Petition #” field overrides the name fields as if they were blank. There are no plans at this time to break out separate number fields for Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization (or Certificate of Arrival).
  • The “First Name” and “Last Name” fields apply a “starts-with” filter; think of it as an invisible asterisk wildcard. For example, “Schmi” as a last name will match Schmi, Schmid, Schmider, Schmidinger, Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmit, Schmitz, Schmiedel, …
  • Note however that the name algorithm is applied independently to each name stored in a field, if there is more than one name. For example, searching “John” in “First Name” will return Albert John, Charles John, John Edward, etc., in addition to just John. Note that there is no exclusion operator, for example to search “Albert” without “Albert John”.
  • The Last Name field fails (no result) if there is a space, i.e. “von Asch”. Search on the main name, i.e. “Asch”. Alternatively, search on “von” and use Ctrl-F (Find) in your browser to search for Asch on the results page. Note: don’t enclose a search in quotes, the search engine doesn’t like it!
  • Name variants such as “Reilly” and “O’Reilly” or “Mahon” and “McMahon” cannot be found in a single search, even with the “Include alternate spellings” box ticked. Run separate searches by variant.
  • The default (and only) sort key is the First Name field; columns cannot be used as sort keys, and sort order cannot be inverted. However, the up-to-500 search results are presented on a single page, so it is possible to copy the results table to a spreadsheet program for further analysis if you wish to sort or filter results. CSV export is not available.
  • If you are not getting any hits, try checking the “Include alternate spellings (name search only)” box. This will widen search considerably and may be necessary for older records with mangled Eastern European or German names which were difficult to transcribe for indexers. Note however that this will fail (zero results) in some cases, if you use partial names; keep trying!
  • The “Country of Origin” field should perhaps be a closed field with legal values in a dropdown list, but it isn’t, so be sure you have spelled a country name correctly in English, inits short form (e.g. “Russia”). In some cases, concerning countries whose borders changed, the algorithm will find a country name if more than one is in the database for a record. For example, a search with “Poland” will also return “Austria Poland” as well as “Poland”.
  • Note that “United Kingdom” is not in the country list, although “Great Britain”, “England”, “Wales”, “Scotland”, and “Ireland” are! And try either “Netherlands” or “Holland”…
  • A search which fails with no results will position your cursor in the “Petition #” field which may be confusing if you have been trying name searches. Leave the field blank and rerun a name search.
  • Only 1 year of arrival can be specified; a year range is not possible. If you are confident within a short range of years, run successive searches by year or alternatively, copy the search results table to a spreadsheet program
  • It’s not possible to search more than one borough (county) at a time; run successive searches if you are not sure of the borough
  • Download a PDF by clicking on the blue camera icon. Note that the document filename will always be “document.pdf”; it’s best to immediately rename the PDF file to a name you can remember and find.
  • Many, if not most Certificates of Arrival (if present in the PDF) are sideways… limber up your neck to read them onscreen, or save your neck and download the PDF, then use software to reorient the images correctly.
  • There’s no easy way to reinitialize to a blank search screen, clicking on the site logo doesn’t do it. Reset the URL to, or blank out each field.
  • There is no feedback system yet for crowdsourcing error reports for the admins.
  • The Today date shown in the upper right is in M/D/YYYY format, the default used in the United States; Europeans take note to avoid confusion!

Find answers to your questions on our forums.

1 comment

Very thorough explanations. Unfortunately, you need. more than just a name, yr of immigration & borough. You need a Petition # – which is not how it works elsewhere. In fact, IF you can go to the Fed Archives on Verick & Houston, you can search by name & they’ll print it for you. Free to get in, & less than $1 to print it out. You have to look at the microfiche for that borough All these were done by the WPA, so names may not be an exact match, like the one I got of my grandfather’s. Much easier than having to know the Petition # to search.

Answer from Geneanet: For this database, there is no need to know the Petition number or year of immigration, only the first few letters of a name, followed by an inspection of the results. And as it isn’t possible to select more than one borough, as we wrote you have to run successive searches by borough if you are not sure of the borough. The Petition# field in this database is unfortunately barely usable at this time, as leading zeros are not stripped if present and the field contains a jumble of petition numbers, declaration numbers, and dossier numbers (since many dossiers were started in these boroughs but not continued, or were completed elsewhere). Remember, these are not federal records, they are borough (county) court records.

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