May 7, 2021

The Difference between a Certificate of Naturalization and a Certificate of Citizenship

May 7, 2021

Until a few days ago, I hadn’t even realized that there was such a thing as a Certificate of Citizenship. Since many of my ancestors were relatively late immigrants to the United States, I have long known what a Certificate of Naturalization is. They were and still are issued to a naturalized citizen by a court when he/she met/meets the requirements of becoming a U.S. citizen. Nowadays, a copy of those certificates is probably made. In earlier days no copy of the Naturalization Certificate itself was kept by the court, although sometimes a stub of the certificate was retained. The records of Declarations of Intent and Petitions for Naturalization are usually all that a researcher will find in court records. Because the naturalized citizen kept the only copy of the Naturalization Certificate, I, like many genealogists, have very few of them in my files.


Recently, I ran across a copy of a Certificate of Citizenship for one of my great aunts on FamilySearch’s Family Tree. I knew that my aunt immigrated to the U.S. in 1913 to marry her fiancé who had immigrated a couple of years earlier. He naturalized in 1920 when women still received derivative citizenship when their husbands naturalized. Because of this, I had never even tried to find any naturalization documents for my aunt, so I was surprised to find the Certificate of Citizenship for her. A quick Google search revealed that Certificates of Citizenship are still issued for people who have derivative or acquired citizenship.


Derivative citizenship is citizenship that is derived from another person, such as a parent or spouse. Currently, derivative citizenship is only given to children whose parent(s) naturalize. Once certain residence requirements are met, the child automatically becomes a citizen. Acquisition of citizenship occurs when a child is born outside of the U.S. to at least once U.S. parent. People in these categories may apply for a Certificate of Citizenship to prove U.S. citizenship.


However, in 1948, when my aunt got her Certificate of Citizenship, many women had still received derivative citizenship either when their husband had been naturalized or by marrying a U.S. citizen. In my aunt’s case, she was planning a trip back to Norway to visit her family in 1948. Although I don’t know for sure, most likely she applied for the Certificate to prove her citizenship so she could obtain a U.S. Passport.


For several years now, I’ve given a presentation on naturalization. During my talk, I always stated that it was usually useless to look for naturalization records for women because most of them got derivative citizenship from their husbands. This meant that no separate records were kept before 1922 when the law changed to require women to naturalize under their own names. I now know that my statement wasn’t necessarily accurate. Most women probably didn’t bother to apply for Certificates of Citizenship unless they planned to travel overseas, but Certificates of Citizenship are another possible record to search out for women.


Most of the women who obtained them probably kept them among their important papers, so home sources would be a good starting place to find them. The United States Customs and Immigration Genealogy Program  at is another place to find more information about requesting these records. They have a comprehensive index to the records they hold, but it’s quite expensive at $65 per search. Getting the actual record is an additional charge.


I plan to spend some time figuring out whether any of my other relatives may have obtained Certificates of Citizenship. I’ll also be updating my naturalization program to include information about this new-to-me record. Incidents like this one show why it’s important to periodically review and check for new records for our ancestors. You never know what treasures you might find that will shed new light on an ancestor’s life.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large