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Finding Chicago Naturalization Records

I was looking at FamilySearch’s historical records section over the holidays and noticed that the Soundex cards for Cook County naturalization were added on December 22. Now that they’re online for free, it seems like a good time to talk about Cook County naturalization research.

In this post, I’ll focus on finding the records, but I’ll try to share some of the interesting things I’ve discovered about the Cook County naturalization process in another blog post soon.

If you're looking for Chicago and Cook County naturalization records you'll want to begin with the Soundex index to naturalization petitions for U.S. District & Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District 9, 1840-1950. (I just call it “The Soundex Index.”) It’s the same as NARA publication M1285 and it includes entries for people who naturalized in northern Illinois, northwestern Indiana, southern and eastern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa.

Online Access to the Naturalization Soundex Index

There are two places to access the index online. If you have an subscription you can search the cards by name, year of birth, year of arrival, and state of residence in U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project.

If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, you can now browse the cards for free at They’re included in the historical records part of the site in a database called Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950.

Browsing the Soundex Images

Here’s my approach to browsing the images:

1) Use the Soundex converter at Rootsweb to find the correct Soundex code. Type in the surname, hit the "Get Soundex Code" button and you're done.

2) Select the correct Soundex range from the choices available at FamilySearch. (The link in this paragraph will take you to the correct part of the FamilySearch site.)

Example: B-653 Tekla to C-124 means that section will include B-653 surnames with given names starting with Tekla and run through the end of the C-124 given names.

3) Find a card with the correct given name using a high-low number game strategy. There are 6586 cards in the section that would include Charles Berman (B-655). I'd type 3000 in the image number box to get my bearings. The corresponding card is B-656 with a G given name so I'd try a lower number. Typing in 1500 brings up a card for B-655 with a J given name so I'd try again. Typing in 700 brings up an A given name for B-655. The number 900 brings me to a B-655 card with the name Charles John. If I chose that as my starting point I'd page through the images going backwards until I had exhausted the entries for Charles or similarly-spelled names and then I'd return to image 900 and page through going forward if I hadn't found the match.

The introductory pages to this index remind researchers not to overlook "initials, alternate spellings, and "old country" versions of names." Good advice.

Locating the Naturalization Records

Once you’ve found a card and saved it to your computer, you’re ready to locate a copy of the corresponding naturalization record. Check the court. If it says Circuit, County, Criminal, or Superior, the original records are at the Circuit Court Archives. If it says District, the original records are held by NARA. Records from all the courts are also available on Family History Library microfilm.

1. Circuit Court Archives

I can suggest four ways to get naturalization records from the Circuit Court Archives.

In Person: The Circuit Court Archives has the Cook County Naturalization records from the Circuit Court, County Court, Criminal Court, and Superior Court. If you live in the Chicago area, you can visit their office on the eleventh floor of the Daley Center to view the records (free) and obtain photocopies (minimal fee). The office is easily accessible from the L and the staff is very helpful and friendly.

By Mail: If you can’t visit in person, you can request the records by mail, but it’s a two-step process. Once you submit the order form the office will bill you for the copies and then send them out when payment is received. The cost is $2.00 for the first page and $.50 for each one thereafter (a naturalization record would have just a few pages at most) + a $15 mailing fee + postage.

Important Information to Read Before Requesting a Search

Mail-in Request Form

From Family History Library Film: Using the new catalog at FamilySearch, pull up records for “Cook, Illinois” and then narrow the search by clicking on the link for Naturalization and Citizenship. This will bring up a list of available records and once you’ve identified the correct reel you can order it in at your local Family History Center.

From a Local Researcher: If you don’t live in the Chicago area, it might be quicker and/or easier to request a lookup from a local researcher rather than ordering by mail or ordering FHL films. I can retrieve naturalization records at the Circuit Court Archives if I’m going downtown (send me an email) or KimStankiewicz offers the service through our website.

2. National Archives and Records Administration’s Great Lakes Regional Archives

If the court is listed as District, then the original records are kept at the National Archives and Records Administration’s Great Lakes Regional Archives, 7358 S. Pulaski Road, in Chicago.

In Person: If you’re going to go in person, contact them ahead of time to double-check the search procedure. I have next-to-no experience doing research at NARA but it took a couple of visits for my husband retrieved a naturalization record for someone last year.

NARA Naturalization FAQ

By Mail: NARA’s website says that naturalization records must be obtained by written request and that it can be done in person or by mail, fax, email, or online. I tried the online ordering link earlier today (4 Jan 2011) and it wasn’t working so I couldn’t learn more about how that process works. The fees page on their website suggests that there’s a charge of $.75 each for record copies and that there’s a minimum $15 fee for mail orders.

From FHL Film: The District Court naturalization records are available on Family History Library microfilm. If you have access to a Family History Center you can order in the reels and obtain the records that way. Here’s a quick link to the film numbers up through 1947.

From a FHL Researcher: If you don’t have access to a Family History Center or if you’d like quick access to digital copies of the naturalization records, jorgfe offers that lookup on our website.

This post has grown much long and taken much longer than I expected to write and so I'll wrap things up with a couple of links to not-to-be-missed pages.

Important Information About Cook County Naturalization Records (learn what kinds of information you can expect to find depending on the year the naturalization papers were filed)

Cook County Naturalization Declarations of Intention Index (search the declarations index online)


Joanne said…
I've been working on finding information on Chicago Naturalizations for a while. For a time, a person could go to any courthouse to get naturalized, even the criminal court. What the County and NARA has may be limited to just the final oath (which has only their name and country of origin) or maybe the declaration of intent (also only name and country of origin). The most useful document to find is the petition. Sometimes it is filed with the oath, but most of the time it is missing.

A third place to visit is IRAD. The Illinois Regional Archives Depository also has some naturalization information for state courts as well as some of the county courts.
Hi Joanne. Thanks for the comments. One of the things I'm planning to write about in a follow-up post is how, at one time, people could naturalize in any of the courts. I have a few fascinating articles about that from the Tribune.

The Circuit Court Archives and NARA have declarations and petitions but you're right. The earliest Cook County records don't provide much more than name and country of origin. One interesting thing to note about early naturalizations--if a person filed the declaration in another place but completed the process in Cook County then the papers in the file might have more information than would be expected. I discovered that when I retrieved a file from the Circuit Court Archives for someone a while back.

I'll have to look into the IRAD holdings. Thanks for mentioning them.
FranE said…
You are my beacon of light in Chicago. When I first started researching in this city, I was quite discouraged. Thanks for sharing all you do.
I’ve awarded you the Ancestor Approved award (which Jo awarded to me) for your blog that I really enjoy reading - thank you. You can read about the award in this post . You can also copy the Ancestor Approved graphic.
Reed said…
Thanks for your blog. Very interesting and helpful.

I found two important relations on the Soundex index, the brothers John Perkins and Thomas P. Perkins. As I expected, they appear to have been naturalized near their new US home, one at the "Circuit Court Dodge County, Wis." and one at the "County Court Dodge County, Wis."

Where would I go to find copies of the original court / naturalization papers?

Keep up the good work.

Hi Reed,

I hope you get this note. One possibility for following up to find the naturalization records is to check with Kay on the Genlighten site. If you've found naturalization index entries there's a good chance she can retrieve the records for you. Here's a link to her profile page:

Other options are to search the FHL catalog to see if you can find the records on film or to contact the Wisconsin courts to see who holds the originals.

Let us know what you find out? It might help someone else.

Reed said…
Hello Cynthia. Oh, the power of The Google!

I have been researching family history through various Wisconsin volunteers and societies, especially the Wisc. Historical Society (a great site and organization, by the way). It occurred to me that the Wisc. ARC system (similar to Illinois' IRAD system) might be the place to go. And, yep, if you're looking for records for Dodge and 4 adjacent counties, you should check out the ARC site at UW-Oshkosh's Polk Library:

Through their website I've ordered several sets of Naturalization record photocopies. The cost is very reasonable ($5.00 per set, PayPal accepted). I look forward to their arrival in 4-6 weeks.

— Reed
Julie said…
Thanks for such detailed information, Cynthia!
gilburns said…
I've ordered naturalization records online directly from the archives. I filled out the online form, paid the $7.50 fee with a credit card, and about a week later got a CD in the mail with the scanned records. Works well.
Hi Cynthia,
What a terrific service you're doing for the Chicago genealogical community. I have so much, including primary documents, from my grandparents and parents, I'm pretty sure I've seen their naturalization card among the artifacts, but now know how to search if need be. I wonder if you have any thoughts on donating a treasure trove of letters, diaries, etc that document the 20th Century in Chicago.
Hi Linda. Thanks for the kind comments. My thought about donating a treasure trove of family documents is DO IT! I wonder if the Chicago History Museum would take them?

I was able to find family letters in Minnesota because someone had done that. It was wonderful.
Jen said…
I have several ancestors who were naturalized in Cook County pre-1900. I have their soundex cards (or the cards of those people I believe are my ancestors), but I've been told that pre-1904, there really isn't any more information in the paperwork than there is on the soundex card. True? This is such a bummer because I've been trying to track one last ancestor back to his origins in Bohemia and I'm not sure what other options I have now. He arrived in Chicago in 1869/70 and naturalized in 1896 (I believe.)

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