Women and Naturalization – Pre-1922

Excerpt from the Fall 2019 Issue of the American Ancestors Magazine

Before 1922, a woman became an American citizen as part of her husband’s or father’s naturalization process.  Naturalization records for male relatives can include relevant information on female family members.  The Expatriation Act of 1907 required a U.S.-born woman who married a foreigner to assume the nationality of her husband, therefore losing her own American citizenship.  Between 1907 and 1922, an American-born woman who married an alien eligible for citizenship could regain her own American citizenship, but only by going through the entire naturalization process as if she were a newly arrived immigrant.  The steps included providing character witnesses and taking the Oath of Allegiance.  The Cable Act, passed September 22, 1922, repealed the 1907 law, but women who had married aliens and lost citizenship during the Expatriation Act still had to submit to the full naturalization process.

In 1936, a new act allowed a woman who had lost her citizenship through marriage, a “marital expatriate”, to apply for repatriation, provided she was no longer married to her alien spouse – whether through death or divorce – by submitted her U.S. birth, marriage, and divorce records (her her husband’s death certificate), then taking the Oath of Allegiance. On July 2, 1940, a new act allowed all women who lost their citizenship by marriage to repatriate – regardless of marital status.  But they still had to take an Oath of Allegiance and swear they had continually lived in the United States since their marriage.  Women could repatriate at any District Court, and these repatriation applications are part of Record Group 21 at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) branch holding records for that District Court.

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