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March 13, 2014

Traces of Laurel: Naturalization

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In a recent conversation the subject of naturalization of immigrants came up, specifically as to the form used and the official government signature required.  I’ve been looking into this and I wanted to share what I’ve found out with readers.

Naturalization is the process of granting citizenship privileges and responsibilities to foreign-born residents.  I contacted Wayne Onkst at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives who sent me the following statement by Walter Bowman, an expert on available records there:

“The naturalization process from 1790 to the early 20th century is (that) an immigrant entering the country files intent to naturalize after a period of time (up to five years).  The person can then file for naturalization.  These are sometimes referred to as first and second papers.  Any court may naturalize a person, generally they are done in the County Court; however, the Circuit Court may also do naturalizations.  In the large cities . . . Night Court and Police Court do a lot of naturalizations because they are functioning when immigrants are off from work.  The records for these are recorded in the order books of the various courts.”

In the archives of the Laurel County Historical Society I found a list of names of those who were naturalized in Laurel County from 1886-1906.  There is also a microfilmed copy of Laurel County’s naturalization records for that period (the county clerk’s office has a hard copy of this book).  I did not have time to look through all the Court Order books at the courthouse, but that is an option for researchers.  The historical society has many of these Order books on microfilm as well.  I will tell you in advance that the writing on these old records is hard to read and the spelling often questionable.

The form used for naturalizations contained the necessary references to the court where the hearing took place, the date, the name of the person being naturalized, his native country, the date he arrived in America, and his statement that he would abide by the principles of the Constitution of the United States.  The paper was then signed by the County Court Clerk or his deputy and the presiding judge, followed by the date this was done.  C. N. Scoville, profiled in this column a few weeks ago, signed many of these forms as County Court Clerk.

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