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# Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Belgian Waffling
Posted by Diane

Q What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family came from there, and I would like to know where I can go to find information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.

A
Based on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the Belgian immigrant. 

So first, you’ll have to learn who the immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came from. To do that, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the family in America, starting with your husband.

You might try asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for example.

A good next step would be searching federal census records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850, censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate that. Later censuses even tell you  parents’ birthplaces.

If your husband’s ancestor became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues, too.

Your best bet is to check every source you can about each previous generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but his brother did. (See our  feature on naturalization records in the May 2008 issue.)

I’d also recommend you look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project, for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups could provide historical and social context to help guide your search. You may also be able to connect with cousins through these organizations’ queries and databases. Browse our online Belgian Toolkit to find more resources and Web sites.

By following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.


Belgian roots | immigration | international research | naturalization
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 5:51:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, May 25, 2007
It's Only Natural
Posted by Allison

Q Several branches of my family came to United States in the 1860s from Sweden and Germany and England—before Ellis Island. Were these people automatically made citizens or did they have to apply for naturalization? Where would one go to learn of this procedure?

A Any immigrant coming to the United States in the mid-1800s would have had to be naturalized to become a citizen. The process was twofold: First, the newcomer would have filed a declaration of intent for citizenship (referred to as “first papers”). After fulfilling the five-year residency requirement, he could then file his petition for naturalization. He had to sign these “final papers”—so if you can find that petition, you’ll have the added treat of seeing your ancestor’s John Hancock.

When male immigrants were naturalized, their children also automatically received citizenship. Between 1855 and 1922, their wives did, too.

The federal government standardized the naturalization process (including the paperwork) in 1906. Since your ancestors arrived before that, they could've filed for citizenship in any court—they might even have started the process in one location, then completed it in another. To cover all your bases, you’ll need to hunt for records at the local, county and state levels.

Start with a place search of the Family History Library catalog for locations where your ancestors might have petitioned, and look under the naturalization heading to identify records available on microfilm. Next, check archives at all three levels. Some archives and other official stewards of naturalization records have posted indexes and documents online: See Joe Beine’s state-by-state directory of links. NaturalizationRecords.com is also helpful.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has copies of all post-1906 naturalization records. To request those, download and fill out form G-639 and mail it to US Citizenship and Immigration Serivces FOIA/PA, 111 Massachusetts Ave.,
Washington, DC 20529 (be sure to write “Freedom of Information Act Request” on the envelope).

Naturalization records can be a gateway to finding your ancestor’s passenger arrival list, as they often tell port and date of immigration (though the earlier the records, generally the less detail they contain). In fact, that’s how I confirmed the family story of my great-grandfather Henry Essel’s 1888 arrival through Philadelphia, enabling me to locate the ship manifest recording him and his family.

You can learn more about the naturalization process in They Became Americans by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry, $19.95) and The Family Tree Guide To Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (Family Tree Books, $19.99). For Carmack’s 10-step guide to tracing immigrant ancestors, see our Yearbook 2003 issue. Library and Archives Canada provides information on Canadian naturalizations.


immigration | naturalization
Friday, May 25, 2007 11:06:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]