Searching for Multnomah County, Oregon Naturalization Files

By Connie Lenzen, CG

Updated 12 February 2012

Naturalizations are some of the most-difficult records for a genealogist to locate. This is due to the cumbersome, disjointed processes that have prevailed. Prior to 1906, naturalization could take place in any court of record—at the city, county, state, or federal level. The various steps of the process might well have transpired in various courts across several states.

For the researcher who suspects their ancestor was naturalized in Multnomah County, Oregon, the process is complicated by the fact that naturalizations were granted by county courts and by federal courts—all located in Portland. Many of the records have been collected in archives far removed from the courtroom where the ancestor swore allegiance to the United States.

For handy reference, this web page is broken down into the following sections:

Was the Ancestor Naturalized?

Brief Summary of the Laws

Naturalization After September 1906

Naturalization Before September 1906

Help for Finding Naturalization Records in Other Localities

Was the Ancestor Naturalized?

The first step is to determine if the ancestor was really naturalized. You may be able to find the answer to this question by looking at the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. There is a column for citizenship status on all four.

If the ancestor voted, he was most likely naturalized. A set of Multnomah County voter registration cards for foreign-born voters for the years 1916 to 1967 was microfilmed by the Multnomah County Election Department. The card includes the name of the court where the voter was naturalized and the date that the naturalization occurred. Cancelled Voter Registration Cards

A Brief Summary of Naturalization Laws

The naturalization process has called for a declaration of intention, a petition for naturalization, depositions of reputable witnesses, and a final decree. Most pre-1906 records in Oregon provide the bare minimum of information: the name of applicant and his country of prior origins. Post-1906 records can provide ages, occupations, personal descriptions, dates and places of births, dates of emigrations, ports of embarkation and arrival, marital status, and similar information on children of the applicant.

YearLaw
1790 First United States Naturalization act enacted. Free white males over 21 years could apply for citizenship before any court of record after two years residence in the United States and one year in any state. No declaration of intention required. Naturalization could take place in any court of record.
1795 Three-year residence requirement for declaration of intent. Residency requirement for final papers increased to five years with one year in the state. Wives and children automatically became citizens (called derivative citizenship). Single women over 21 years could apply for citizenship.
1802 Citizenship bestowed upon widows and children of alien who had declared intent but died prior to final papers.
1862 Military veterans became citizens after honorable discharge.
1906 Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization formed. Aliens required to register upon entry. Residence: two years to declare intent, five years for final papers. Wives and minor children became citizens when father/husband was naturalized (derivative citizenship).
1922 Women aged 21 years could become citizens. Wives no longer became citizens upon husband’s naturalization. Residency requirement for declaration of intent waived.

Naturalization After September 1906

All courts conferring citizenship since 1906 have been required to use the standardized forms provided by the United States Naturalization Service (INS). They forwarded copies of the records to INS and now to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Thus, post-1906 naturalization documents on any person may exist locally or federally, and the INS/USCIS copy is housed in a central repository.

The importance of these records is that USCIS maintains a general index by name! They will search their index and provide copies of the documents. A caution: Records created within the past seventy-five years are deemed confidential, and there are restrictions on their access. Go to the USCIS web site. Click on the “Genealogy” link under “Services.”

Just like naturalization is a two-step process, the search is a two-step process. First you apply for an Index Search ($20.00). Search results are returned to the researcher, along with instructions on how to request the file(s) from USCIS or the National Archives.

The index search is important because USCIS will check the following record groups:

The second step is to request the records. Given the index search results, you can order the files. The fee is $20.00 (if the record is on microfilm) or $35.00 (if the record is in manuscript form).

There is often a copy of the naturalization file at the court where the naturalization took place. Searching for Multnomah County, Oregon Naturalization Files

The search takes from two months to one year to complete.

Naturalization Before September 1906

It is more difficult to locate naturalization records created before September 1906 since there is no master index. The courts in each locality where an ancestor lived must be searched. Even when a file is discovered, it often does not provide much information.

Did your immigrant ancestor receive Federal land? If so, he or she was a citizen. Under the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Donation Land Act of 1850, applicants had to be citizens to receive federal land. A copy of the naturalization papers is included in their Land Case File.

Search Land Patents on-line at: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov. If you do not have Internet access, check the Index to Oregon Donation Land Claims, a book published by the Genealogical Forum of Oregon (GFO). Also, look at the BLM Tract Books, on microfiche, in the Forum Library.

Genealogical Forum of Oregon Library ( visitor fee)

E-mail:

The Forum has a research service, and a member of the Research Committee will look up the information from the Index to Oregon Donation Land Claims for you. The fee is $10.00 for an hour or research. Photocopies are an additional 25-cents per page. Please enclose a long stamped, self-addressed envelope with your request and send to:

Attn: Research Committee

If you find that your ancestor had a Homestead or Donation Land Claim, you can obtain a copy of the entire file (including the naturalization papers) from the National Archives. The fee is $37.00. Request a copy of NATF Form 84, “National Archives Order for Copies of Land Entry Files,” from the National Archives. You can send an e-mail request for the form to inquire@nara.gov. Or, you can download the form. Mail requests for the form should be sent to:

National Archives & Records Administration
NWCTB
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20408-001

The Genealogical Forum of Oregon Library and the Oregon State Archives have the microfilmed set of Oregon Donation Land Claim case files, but the files do not include the naturalization papers. When the files were filmed, it was not permitted to copy naturalization papers.

Did Your Ancestor Vote in Multnomah County? Foreign Born Voter Registrations.

If your ancestor voted in Multnomah County, you will probably find their registration card on the “Foreign Registration Cards Prior to Sept. 1967”. The cards include the date and name of the court where the naturalization took place.

A set of the 29 rolls is in the:

Multnomah County Courthouse

If you have not found your ancestor’s naturalization, and you are positive the naturalization took place in Multnomah County, here is the next step.

Contact the Multnomah County Circuit Court File room at the Multnomah County Courthouse. The court staff will check the Multnomah County Naturalization Indexes. Note: there is usually a back-log of requests.

Multnomah County Courthouse
1021 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

In October 2006, the Oregon State Archives prepared an inventory of Multnomah County court records. The following information about Multnomah County naturalization records was taken from the online inventory at Oregon State Archive’s web site, http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/county/cphome.html.

Multnomah County Courthouse, Circuit Court File Room, Room 131:

Multnomah Building, Multnomah County Recording Office Public Research Room, Suite 125:

Towne Storage Building, Multnomah County Circuit Court Records Area:

Federal Court Naturalizations, the U.S. District Court and the US Circuit Court

If the search of the Multnomah County Circuit Court does not bring results, all is not lost. Many people became citizens at the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Circuit Court, also located in Portland.

A consolidated index to naturalization proceedings in the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Circuit Court for Oregon between 1859 and 1946 has been microfilmed as “M1242, Indexes to the Naturalization Records of the U.S. District Court for Oregon, 1859–1956.” The researcher can find these indexes at the Genealogical Forum Library.

The records that go with the microfilm index cards are at the Federal Records Center of the National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region in Seattle, Washington.

Federal Records Center
6125 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, Washington 98115-7999
Phone:206-526-6501
E-mail: seattle.archives@nara.gov

Many of the records at the Pacific Alaska Region NARA have been indexed on Ancestry.com. See their “Oregon, Naturalization Records 1895–1999” collection.

Records for the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Oregon in the Federal Records Center, Seattle

Records for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in the Federal Records Center, Seattle

For further information about naturalization, here are the names of some guidebooks that you can find at the GFO library.

Greenwood, Val D. “American Aids to Finding the Home of the Immigrant Ancestor.” The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 2nd Edition. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990, pp 465–484. [Bibliography includes books about naturalization.]

Newman, John J. American Naturalization Records 1790–1990 What They Are and How to Use Them. Bountiful UT: Heritage Quest, 1985, 1988. [Laws relating to naturalization, sample naturalization records, bibliography.]

Schaefer, Christina K. Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987. [State-by-state list of records.]

Szucs, Loretto Dennis. They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Inc., 1998.