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Archives - Naturalization Records

North Dakota's naturalization records were transferred from the Clerk of District Court offices of the state's 53 counties and are preserved at the State Archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. These records represent the bulk of documentation pertaining to immigration and naturalization proceedings in the state. The records document individuals who resided in North Dakota and who became, or applied to become, citizens of the United States between 1873 and 1952. Not included are those individuals who were naturalized in federal court.

Some volumes may be listed in the indexes which are not found in the collection. Some of these volumes may be available by contacting:

The National Archives at Kansas City
Serving the Central Plains Region
400 West Pershing Road
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 268-8000

How to Use

A state-wide index to North Dakota naturalization records is available online, in cooperation with the Institute for Regional Studies at the North Dakota State University Libraries. The index was developed by the staff of the State Archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota from the original records. The index is complete for all of the state's 53 counties and contains more than 212,000 entries. The index includes name, country of emigration, date of declaration of intention (first papers) or date of naturalization (second papers), the county where the proceedings occurred, and volume and page information for locating the record. The index is also available in printed form in the Orin G. Libby Memorial Reading Room of the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.

All North Dakota naturalization records held by the State Archives have been microfilmed. You can obtain a copy of an individual's naturalization records in any of the following ways:

  • You can visit the Orin G. Libby Memorial Reading Room at the North Dakota Heritage Center to view the microfilm and make a copy from the microfilm for a copying fee.
  • You can request a copy of the appropriate microfilm (the request must include county and date) through Interlibrary Loan.
  • You can then make a copy from the microfilm at your local library if they have a microfilm reader-printer.
  • You can request State Historical Society staff make copies of the records for a search fee.

However you submit your request, you must include your name and complete mailing address as well as identifying information about the person(s) naturalized.

  • Name of individual naturalized,
  • County or counties where the individual applied for citizenship,
  • Volume number, page number, and date of application.
  • A search fee (see Charges For Reference Services) will be charged for each individual naturalized, for each county searched.
  • This does not apply to the spouse or children unless they obtained separate naturalization records.

Types of Naturalization Records

The North Dakota Naturalization Records span nearly a century of immigration history, so it is inevitable that ealier records are different in appearance and content. This difference along with the change in county boundaries causes some difficulty in access. Before 1906, naturalization forms required only the name of the individual requesting citizenship, country of birth, and the date of the request. After September 1906, the naturalization forms were standardized, printed and distributed to all Clerks of Court. From that time naturalization records are uniform and contain birth dates of family members and other information.

The basic process of naturalization is recorded in two sets of documents: the Declaration of Intention and the Naturalization Record. The Declaration of Intention records are often called the "first papers" and in these the person declared his/her intention to become a U.S. citizen. They usually contain little more than the name of the person and location and date of the declaration. September 1906 saw a basic change and declaration records began to require more detailed information including some family history.

The Naturalization Records are often called "second papers". These records grant U.S. citizenship. The early records contain very little family or personal history of the applicant; often the name of the applicant, country of origin and date of records were the only data supplied. In 1906, the form was changed and became known as the "Petition and Record" which required a greater amount of of detailed family and personal history. Despite the change, a few counties used the older forms for a few years.

Knowing the approximate dates of naturalization of the person being researched will determine what information a researcher might expect to find. Before 1906, only the head of household was required to become naturalized with the remainder of the family automatically naturalized when he/she received the final papers. This means that wives and children are not listed separately nor were separate records required until the late 1920s when both spoused needed to register. Later the children required separate records.

Researchers will also need to be aware of the possible variations in spellings of names which may occur from the time of the first papers and second papers to the present.

History of the Naturalization Laws

Historically, laws governing immigration and naturalization were sensitive to political and economic shifts. Almost yearly, the naturalization laws were amended. The purpose of the changes was to control who was allowed to enter the country and live here long enough to become citizens of the United States. Many of the changes were short-lived, but their effects are reflected in the records.

The first U.S. Naturalization Law was enacted by Congress in 1790. Prior to 1906, decisions regarding citizenship applications and recording requirements were left up to local judges. There was no uniform outline for keeping naturalization records. Federal and state courts and a series of federal agencies shared jurisdiction over naturalization. In North Dakota, state district court judges normally conferred citizenship. In some cases, federal courts and county courts shared the naturalization process with the district courts.

Some volumes may be listed in the indexes which are not found in the collection. Some of these volumes may be available by writing to the Kansas City Branch of the National Archives and Records Administration: Regional Archives, 2312 E. Bannister Rd., Kansas City MO 64131.

Rules, methods, and documents varied, and with increasing numbers of immigrants entering the United States it was imperative to have a standard system of records. As the naturalization laws were changed, the office carrying the ultimate responsibility for the process also changed. In 1882, Congress passed the first Federal law regulating immigration; between 1882 and 1891 the Secretary of the Treasury had general supervision over immigration. In 1891 an office of "Superintendent of Immigration" was created in the Treasury Department. The title was changed to "Commissioner-General of Immigration" in 1895. Laws enacted in 1903 and 1904 transferred control of naturalization to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, an exchange which lasted nine years. In 1913 the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was transferred to the Department of Labor and split into the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. These agencies were again consolidated by Executive Order in 1933 and the office renamed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In 1940 it was transferred to the Department of Justice. In 2003 most of its functions were transferred to three new entities – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – within the newly created Department of Homeland Security, as part of a major government reorganization following the September 11 attacks of 2001.The documents generated in the process were passed on with each change of authority. Records after 1952 were sent to INS district offices and are available there. To obtain information regarding the North Dakota records, write to: Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2901 Metro Drive, Suite 100 Bloomington, MN 55425.

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