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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill  9/28/2005

The Naturalization of Three Brothers

Questions of citizenship and naturalization frequently perplex family historians. This week we look at three naturalized brothers for whom no actual naturalization record can be found and the reason serves to remind us that an understanding of the appropriate laws and procedures is necessary for effective family history research.

Brothers George, Theodore, and John Trautvetter all claim to be naturalized citizens in their 1900 through 1930 census enumerations. While census records can be incorrect, consistencies from year to year should be noted. Abstracts of the brothers' entries follow:

  • 1900
    George, immigrated 1853, 47 years in the United States, naturalized
    Theodore, immigrated 1853, 47 years in the United States, naturalized
    John M., immigrated 1853, 47 years in the United States, naturalized
  • 1910
    George, immigrated 1853, naturalized
    Theodore, immigrated 1853, naturalized
    John M., immigrated 1853 naturalized
  • 1920
    George, immigrated 1853, naturalized in 1859
    Theodore, immigrated 1853, citizenship status unknown
    (John died in 1916)
  • 1930
    George, immigrated 1853, naturalized
    (Theodore died in 1927)

Note: In the interest of space, complete citations are not given, but all census entries for the Trautvetter brothers were in Hancock County, Illinois, either Rocky Run, Walker, or Warsaw Townships.

Given that the brothers were likely naturalized before the immigration reform of 1906, local county records were searched for their naturalization. (Most pre-1906 naturalizations were performed by one of the various county courts.) Regular naturalizations and records of minors' naturalizations were searched. (The distinction is important as regular naturalizations and minors' naturalizations may be filed and index separately.) No record was found.

While it is possible that the brothers naturalized in a different court, it seems unlikely in this case. Family tradition and records indicate the family settled in Hancock County immediately after their immigration and did not move. Before other counties and court records are checked, it is time to re-think and re-analyze.

A Clue
There is a potential clue that could easily be overlooked. In the 1920 census, George indicates he was naturalized in 1859, the year he turned seventeen. He would have been too young to have naturalized in his own right. It could be tempting to cast this date off as a census error, but to automatically assume the date is wrong without consulting additional records and sources would be a mistake. One consistency in the enumerations is the year of immigration. It is always given as 1853.

So how could George have been naturalized before his twenty-first birthday? Simple. He had nothing to do with it. Had George's father naturalized when George was underage, George would automatically have become a citizen when his father did. So would any other minor children of the father.

This type of citizenship is commonly referred to as derivative citizenship. A derivative citizenship is one where the status not obtained directly but is "derived" from the citizenship of another. If this is the case, the three brothers were naturalized but did not have any actual "paper" of their own showing their citizenship status.

Looking for the Father
A search of Hancock County naturalization records did locate an 1855 declaration of intent for George Trautvetter, father of brothers George, Theodore, and John. This was a fortunate find. Not all declarations during this era are overly informative, but George's from 4 January 1855 provided substantial information: George was born in Salsungen[sic] Germany, on 15 July 1798, and that the 56 year old owed allegiance to the Duke of Saxeweimer[sic] and sailed from Bremen on 15 May 1853 and landed in Baltimore on 3 July 1853. The document also contains the only known copy of George's signature.

Declarations of Intent during this time were usually taken orally from the person making the declaration, without proof. Later declarations of intent (particularly those after 1906) required document of entry into the United States. George was probably just taken at his word. Readers familiar with German geography will note that Salsungen probably refers to Bad Salzungen. George's declaration of intent (along with his actual signature) can be viewed here:

No Naturalization?
Unfortunately a search of the remaining records did not locate a naturalization record for George (the father). It is possible he actually naturalized in another county and records in adjacent jurisdictions should be searched. I still believe he completed the process or at least that his sons thought that he completed the process. After all, a naturalization record cannot be found for any of the three sons who all claimed to have been naturalized.

Had naturalization occurred after 1906 the names of the children would have been stated explicitly. For records before the immigration reform there were numerous individuals who were naturalized without their name ever appearing in a naturalization record. Others were in the same situation as the Trautvetter brothers. Some might even have been uncertain of their citizenship status and indicated so on a census record. Some individuals in order to guarantee their citizenship status would naturalize of their own accord to prevent any ambiguity.

These Are Not Minor Naturalizations
The derivative naturalizations of George (the son), Theodore, and John are not minor naturalizations even though they were actually minors at the time of their naturalization. Minor naturalizations, as discussed in an earlier column, are naturalizations of those who immigrated as minors and were adults at the time of their naturalization.

Children were not the only ones who might have obtained a derivative citizenship when the father naturalized, the wife may also have obtained such a citizenship. So some women, like the men mentioned earlier, may have been foreign born citizens who never actually became naturalized themselves. In their case proof of their marriage, coupled with their husband's naturalization record would have served as their naturalization. Those who wish to learn more about the interesting history of women's citizenship status (particularly as it relates to the husband-wife relationship) are referred to Marian Smith's article in the National Archives magazine Prologue (Summer 1998 edition). It is available online at the National Archives website.

If your ancestor's responses to citizenship questions in the census indicates he was uncertain of his status, consider the possibility that your ancestor actually had derivative citizenship. There are many other reasons why your ancestor might have been confused, but it is an option worth considering.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Michael John Neill will be speaking at the following events throughout 2005:

  • 8 October 2005 Pekin, Illinois, all-day seminar sponsored by the Tazewell County Genealogical Society
  • 14 October 2005 Dearborn, Michigan, Computer Genealogy Workshop on Using for the Henry Ford Community College
  • 15 October 2005 Dearborn, Michigan, all-day Genealogy Workshop for Henry Ford Community College
  • 22 October 2005 Bristol, Indiana, all-day Genealogy workshop sponsored by the Elkhart County Genealogical Society
  • 12 November 2005 St. Peters, Missouri, 8th annual Family History Day sponsored by St. Charles County Genealogical Society and St. Charles Community College.
  • Additional information can be linked to from

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