Virginia Naturalization Records, 1657/8-1952 – Cara F. Griggs

Cara F. Griggs

Cara F. Griggs, MSLIS

SESSION: NGS2104-VIR-03 TRACK: Virginia

Finding naturalization records for Virginians can seem complicated! The laws that governed the naturalizations of Virginians changed considerably over time in terms of process as well as eligibility, and it is important to know what laws were in effect when looking for naturalization records. During colonial times, the naturalization process was governed by English law as well as Virginia law. After the Revolution, the federal government oversaw the naturalization process. Laws changed over time, as did the records themselves. Depending on the time period, records of naturalizations were kept by a variety of government entities, including those at the local, state, and federal levels.

During the colonial period, records of naturalizations may also be found in the records of the British government. Information contained in the records varied over time. Early records may contain only a name and country of origin. After the federal government standardized the naturalization process in 1906, much more information was collected, and records may include specific places of birth, information on travel to the United States, the names of family members, and even photographs by the mid-20th century. Yet, early records should not be discounted! By looking at the residency requirements that were in effect at the time, one may determine a year by which an individual resided in the United States, and several members of a family may be naturalized at the same time. For most of the time periods that we will cover, the naturalization process required two separate steps, and locating the paperwork for both the Declaration of Intention and the Petition for Naturalization may reveal an immigrant’s migration across Virginia or even the United States. And, because there was no standardization, the information contained in the records could vary from one courthouse to another within the same locality.

Through examples and case studies, this session will demystify the naturalization process for Virginians. Attendees of this session will learn how naturalization laws evolved and how to determine what laws were in effect when a naturalization occurred, strategies for determining where naturalization records may be found, and what types of records may be found.

BIO: Cara F. Griggs has been a reference archivist at the Library of Virginia since 2006. She earned a BA in history from the University of Richmond, an AM in social sciences from the University of Chicago, and an MSLIS with an archival studies concentration from Drexel University. She is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists.

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