Why Some C-Files May Lack a Declaration of Intention

Reasons That Some C-Files Do Not Include a Declaration of Intention

USCIS Genealogy records requesters sometimes discover the  Certificate File ("C-File") they received does not contain a Declaration of Intention record.  The Declarations are not missing.  Rather, these C-Files usually document “one-paper” naturalizations (so called because only a Petition for Naturalization was filed).

Naturalization laws contained numerous exceptions to the general “3-Record Rule” requiring a Declaration of Intention, Petition for Naturalization, and Certificate of Naturalization.  Most of these provisions permitted prospective citizens to petition for naturalization without a declaration of intention.

During the C-File period (Sept. 27, 1906 – March 31, 1956), “one-paper” naturalizations usually resulted from legislation that:

  1. Waived the declaration of intention requirement for special classes of immigrants (exemptions), providing a simplified naturalization process;
  2. Permitted naturalization on “old law” declarations filed on or before Sept. 26, 1906 (courts did not create duplicate copies of naturalization records for inclusion in C-Files until Sept. 27, 1906);
  3. Allowed the repatriation or resumption of citizenship by former U.S. citizens (“expatriates”) without filing a declaration of intention; or
  4. Made filing a declaration of intention voluntary for all naturalization petitioners beginning on Dec. 24, 1952.

Exemptions Allowed Many Aliens to Naturalize Without a Declaration of Intention

The most common exceptions to the declaration of intention requirement during the first half of the 20th century applied to:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens; and
  • Veterans and active members of the U.S. Armed Services.

Persons Married to U.S. Citizens.

The Married Women’s Citizenship Act (or “Cable Act”) of Sept. 22, 1922, waived the declaration requirement for women married to U.S. citizens.  An Act of May 24, 1934, amended this provision, extending expedited naturalization to the foreign-born husbands of American women, too.1

Veterans and active members of the U.S. Armed Services.

Congress enacted many exceptions to facilitate the naturalization of veterans as a reward for their service to the nation.  Many of these laws dispensed with the declaration requirement for active service members and/or honorably discharged veterans.2

Only the Naturalization Courts Kept Copies of “Old Law” Declarations of Intention

Courts did not submit a duplicate copy of Declaration of Intention records to the federal government until the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 required them to do so.  That law took effect on Sept. 27th of that year.  Under the new law immigrants who declared under the “old law” could file Petitions for Naturalization based on the old declarations.  Thus, many early C-Files (circa 1906-1910, but sometimes even as late as 1918)3 contain only a petition and Certificate of Naturalization.  In those cases  the court where the naturalized citizen originally declared his intention will have the only copy of the declaration document.

Repatriating Former Citizens Did Not Need to Make a Declaration of Intention

Repatriation – the resumption of citizenship voluntary abandoned – is a proceeding equivalent to naturalization.4  Many former citizens (“expatriates”) could repatriate without a declaration of intention by taking the Oath of Allegiance and Renunciation.

Most repatriations involved:

  • Women who lost citizenship by marriage to an alien before Sept. 22, 19225;  or
  • Citizens who took an oath of allegiance to another government while serving in an allied foreign military6;
  • Citizens who voted in a foreign political election7

The Declaration of Intention Became Voluntary Before the C-File Records Series Closed

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 made the declaration of intention voluntary after Dec. 23, 1952; the C-Files records series closed over three years later on March 31, 1956.  Thus, many of the C-Files from the last years of the C-Files era will not include a declaration.  (Some immigrants still opted to make a declaration, usually because of state laws or employment regulations requiring declarations from aliens wishing to practice certain professions).8

The Declaration of Intention Requirement Had Many Other Exceptions

U.S. naturalization laws contained several less commonly invoked exemptions which applied to smaller classes of immigrants. Examples include:

  • Aliens misinformed about their citizenship status – A 1910 law did not require a declaration from petitioners who always thought they were citizens, only to learn later they had been “misinformed.”9
  • Children expatriated by actions of a parent – Legislation in 1940 made it easier for those whose US citizenship had been lost through their parent’s naturalization elsewhere, or some other act of expatriation performed by their parent while they were a child.10
  • Widow and orphans of declarants – One of the oldest exemptions, dating from 1804, allowed the widow or orphan of a deceased declarant to “finish” the naturalization he began.11
  • Wives and minor children of insane declarants – Similar to the exemption above, the Act of Feb. 24, 1911 (36 Stat. 929) allowed homesteading wives and minor children of insane declarants to naturalize without a making a declaration.


As a general rule Congress waived the declaration requirement for aliens who already demonstrated a strong attachment to the country.  Thus, exemptions tended to be consistent with the declaration of intention’s primary purpose of providing prospective naturalization petitioners an opportunity to develop an understanding of the American system of government and an affiliation with the nation.


[1] The Married Woman’s Citizenship Act (“Cable Act”) of Sept. 22, 1922, 42 Stat. 1022, § 2 (allowing naturalization of wives of U.S. citizens without filing a declaration); Act of May 24, 1934, 48 Stat 797, § 4 (amending §2 of Cable Act to be gender-neutral); see also Nationality Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 1114, §§ 310-312 (reenacting similar provisions).

[2] Act of May 9, 1918, 40 Stat. 542, § 2 (repealing, limiting, and/or consolidating various previous acts expediting veterans’ naturalization and waiving declaration of intention for honorably discharged veterans); Nationality Act of 1940, supra, §§ 323-5; see also Act of July 17, 1862, 12 Stat. 597 (enacting expedited naturalization for honorably discharged U.S. Army veterans)(limited by Act of May 9, 1918, supra, § 2; repealed by Nationality Act of 1940, supra, § 504); Act of July 26, 1894, 28 Stat. 124 (extending naturalization privileges to honorably discharged Navy and Marine veterans) (repealed by Act of May 9, 1918, supra, § 2); Act of June 30, 1914, 38 Stat. 395 (repealed by Act of May 9, 1918, supra, § 2); Act of July 19, 1919, 41 Stat. 222 (waiving naturalization fees for honorably discharged soldiers of World War I).

[3] See United States v. Morena, 245 U.S. 392 (1918) (resolving split of authority and holding that seven-year expiration date established by the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 also applied to "old law" declarations).

[4] The “Expatriation” Act of March 2, 1907, established the four grounds for expatriation of U.S. citizens:

  1. Naturalization in a foreign state;
  2. Taking an oath of allegiance to any foreign state;
  3. Residence abroad for the statutory period by a naturalized citizen; or
  4. Marriage to a foreigner (for women only).

Obviously expatriation did not necessarily entail disloyalty or an unpatriotic action.  While it required an affirmative act, such choices could be innocuous and even motivated by good intentions (e.g., marriage). 34 Stat. 1288, §§ 2-3.

[5] Cable Act of 1922, supra, § 4 (allowing naturalization of women who lost U.S. citizenship by marriage to an alien prior to the Act’s passage on Sept. 22, 1922) (amended by Acts of July 3, 1930, 46 Stat. 854, § 2, March 3, 1931, 46 Stat. 1511, § 4, and May 24, 1934, 48 Stat. 797, § 4) (§§ 1-4, repealed by Nationality Act of 1940, supra, § 504; § 5 repealed by § 4 of Act of March 3, 1931, supra).  After the Cable Act in 1922, Congress gradually removed all restrictions on women’s independent citizenship, but the process was not completed until 1940.  See Act of June 25, 1936, 49 Stat. 1917 (allowing repatriation by women who lost citizenship by marriage to an alien after naturalization of husband or termination of the marriage); Act of July 2, 1940, 54 Stat. 715 (amending Act of June 25, 1936 to permit repatriation of women still married to an alien who have “resided continuously in the United States since the date of such marriage”); Nationality Act of 1940, supra, § 317(a) and (b) (allowing naturalization of all women expatriated by marriage since 1907).

[6] Act of May 9, 1918, 40 Stat. 545, § 1 (amending Basic Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596, § 4, Part 12) (allowing resumption of citizenship (repatriation) by taking Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance “before any court… authorized by law to naturalization aliens or before any consul of the United States" for Great War soldiers who lost U.S. citizenship by an oath of allegiance to an allied foreign power as part of service in its armed forces); Nationality Act of 1940, supra, § 323 (amended by Act of April 2, 1942 (56 Stat. 198) (making WWII veterans of Allied belligerent nations also eligible for repatriation under expedited procedure).

[7] The Nationality Act of Oct. 14, 1940, §401 (e) (8 U. S. C. 801 (e)) provided that voting in a foreign election or plebiscite would result in expatriation of a U.S. citizen. The Act of August 7, 1946 (60 Stat. 865) allowed for the expeditious naturalization of former citizens expatriated by in a foreign election.

[8] Immigration and Nationality Act of June 27, 1952, 66 Stat. 163, § 334(f) (making the declaration of intention voluntary).

[9] Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 829, § 3 (allowing aliens “otherwise qualified to become a citizen of the United States” who, “because of misinformation regarding… citizenship status erroneously exercised the rights and performed the duties of a citizen of the United States in good faith,… [to] file the petition for naturalization prescribed by law without making the preliminary declaration of intention required of other aliens”) (adding Part 10 to § 4 of the Basic Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596), amended by Act of May 9, 1918, 40 Stat. 545, § 1.

[10] Nationality Act of Oct. 14, 1940, supra, §§ 318 (allowing for the naturalization (repatriation) of former citizens expatriated by parent’s actions during their minority) and 319 (expediting naturalization of persons who lost U.S. citizenship by the cancellation of a parent’s naturalization for actual or presumptive fraud).

[11] Act of March 26, 1804, 2 Stat. 282 (amending Naturalization Act of 1802) (providing for widows and orphans of a “declarant” (alien who filed a declaration of intention) to naturalize without filing a declaration upon proof of the deceased's declaration and taking the Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance) (recodified by Basic Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 596, § 4, Part Six; repealed by Act of May 24, 1934, 48 Stat. 797, § 5).

[12] By way of illustration:

  • Veterans service showed strong commitment to defending the nation and the U.S. government;
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens were already intimately (and legally) connected to an American family and, thus, their adopted community;
  • Former U.S. citizens would presumably already have an understanding of their homeland’s culture and political system and contacts (family and friends) here;
  • Aliens misinformed concerning their nationality status had often resided in the country since childhood (many for decades) and previously behaved as American citizens (i.e., voting); many of the misinformed mistakenly believed they had derived citizenship from the naturalization of a parent; and
  • The wives and children of deceased or insane declarants probably would have derived citizenship from the naturalization of their late or incapacitated spouse or parent under the contemporary naturalization laws.

Declarations of Intention Without a C-File

USCIS Certificate Files (C-Files) relate to completed naturalizations where a certificate was issued.  Yet many immigrants filed many declarations of intention in many courts that never resulted in successful naturalization.  Accordingly, researchers may encounter Declarations of Intention in court records for which there is no corresponding C-File.

Since September 27, 1906, the Basic Naturalization Act of that year required naturalization courts to complete Declarations of Intention  in triplicate.  The court retained the original in its permanent records, submitted the duplicate to the Naturalization Service in Washington, DC, and provided the third copy to the alien “declarant.”

The 1906 law also made declarations invalid after seven years if no “second papers” were filed.  Valid or not, courts retain original declarations in their permanent records.  But the US Naturalization Service destroyed their duplicate copy of any declarations that expired. As a result, “orphan” declarations filed after September 27, 1906 can be found among court records for which there is no USCIS C-File.

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