So lets talk about the elephant in the room, the naturalization certificate.

Disclaimer: Warning! This is going to be a long post, so if you want the readers digest version, here are some bullet points:

  • Naturalization certificates may be difficult to get from a county court.
  • The USCIS Genealogy program does not make certified copies. Don’t bother asking.
  • In the event you can’t get a certified copy of a naturalization certificate from the court house where the naturalization happened, you may be able to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get these documents.
  • It is unclear if the consulate will even require the naturalization certificates to be certified because it is so difficult to get a non-original. Asking your consulate is a good idea, and I erred on the side of caution by forcing myself to get a copy.

Now, the long version of the story:

My aunt Margie had sent me a photocopy of Sam’s naturalization certificate. I put off asking to borrow it, assuming it would be a simple matter. It was my foolish mistake to assume that she had the original document, but alas, our family record keeping isn’t as cohesive as I wish it were. So it was off to find the naturalization certificate myself. (This citizenship process is often a lonely one)

I placed a call to the West Virgina Division of Culture and History (of which, the West Virginia State Archives is a division). I learned that were two original books of  Mineral County 1900’s naturalization certificates, and that they are held at the Mineral County circuit court.

They are not.

The Mineral County courthouse had kept these records in the past, but after a large archive consolidation, all these records were allegedly sent to the WV state archives (the office I just got off the phone with).

I called the WV state archives back, and talked to a very friendly gentleman who could not find the hard-copies of the records, but did help me locate a microfilm of them (I would later find that this friendly service would cost me $15.00). He made a photocopy of them with his WV State Archives stamp and signature, and suggested that after I receive the photocopies, I send them to the Circuit Court of Mineral County, WV for certification (essentially, a stamp).

After sending these to the Mineral County Clerk, she sent me back a xerox of some terribly old code book that says she isn’t allowed to stamp them. The old, dusty, ancient code says:

Clerks of court are prohibited by law from making and issuing certifications of a naturalization record or any part thereof, except upon order of the Court. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is authorized by law to make such certifications when needed in any judicial proceeding, or to comply with a State or Federal statute. Persons requiring such certifications should be advised to submit application Form N-585 to the appropriate Service office. A supply of Form N-585 is available to clerks of court or to other interested persons from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The prohibition against the issuance of certifications by clerks of court does not extend to the furnishing of uncertified information. Clerks of court may furnish such information orally, in writing, by printing, or by photocopy or other reproductive processes, in accordance with the rules of the cour, without consent or approval by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

From M-154

(Rev. 12-5-72)N

First thing you should notice about this is that its from 1972. Second thing you should notice is that this form is so old, the INS isn’t even the INS anymore, its the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

I wrote the USCIS an email, and they gave me a kind little screw-off letter:

Dear John Smarto,

Thank you for contacting the USCIS Genealogy Program. We apologize for our delayed response.  Your inquiry below indicates that you are trying to obtain certified copies of your ancestor’s immigrant and/or naturalization records.

Please note that the following Records may be identified in USCIS Indexes and are available through the USCIS Genealogy Program provided the subject of the record is DECEASED (we DO NOT provide certified copies):

  • Naturalization Certificate Files (C-files) from September 27, 1906 to April 1, 1956
  • Alien Registration Forms from August 1, 1940 to March 31, 1944
  • Visa files from July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944
  • Registry Files from March 2, 1929 to March 31, 1944
  • Alien Files (A-files) numbered below 8 million (A8000000) and documents therein dated prior to May 1, 1951.

You may want to consider contacting the court where your great grandfather was naturalized to determine if they can provide you with a certified copy [facepalm :roll:]. Please visit the USCIS Genealogy Program web page at for additional information about the USCIS Genealogy Program.  Please be sure to read the Dual Citizenship Research FAQs page and the Historical Records Series page, which summarizes the records that are available through the program, the related fees, how to request a Certification of Non-Existence of a Record of Naturalization, etc.  Please note that the processing time for Genealogy requests is currently up to 120 days.

I trust this information will be helpful.  If you are still unclear you can contact USCIS Genealogy Program toll free by calling 866-259-2349.

Denise M. Long
USCIS Historical Records and Archives Branch
Genealogy Program

So being left with no other options, I scheduled an appointment with an Immigration Officer at the USCIS Pittsburgh Field Office.

Luckily, I was able to get in for a meeting almost immediately, using their INFOPASS service (meeting scheduler online). The guy behind the desk, who wasn’t much older than myself, was very cool and helpful. He had to ask his boss how to handle this weird request, but in the end, all it took was filling out USCIS Form G-639 which is a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request. They copied Sam’s death certificate, his birth certificate and his already-photocopied immigration docs, notorized it on site (a service I’d have to pay for if I did it at home) and sent me on my merry way. It will take a few weeks, but unless the record burned up in a fire or something, I will get this naturalization certficate, free of charge, in the mail. Awesome accomplishment, and very nice to talk to a person face-to-face about it.

Which leaves my last document to request, the simple matter of my mother’s birth certificate. Not use making a separate post about this, I’ve done it all before. Maryland needed a photocopy of her driver’s license, which she was happy to supply, and I shot that off with the required $12.00.

And at this point, every document is requested.

It’s a feeling of accomplishment but tension. I’m so relieved to have done everything I can possibly do at this moment, but now I have to sit and wait around. I suspect the last document I’ll receive, if I receive it at all, will be my great-grandparents application for a marriage license. I sent that last week, and the process is supposed to take “8-10 weeks”.

But, by the end of the calendar year (and with any luck, by the end of October), I suspect I’ll have every document and I can move on to Apostilles, and hopefully accomplish my goal of having all documents in hand, apostilled and translated by 2011.

Total cost of this step: $29.64

I’m choosing not to include travel expenses to the USCIS office in Pittsburgh, as these were not fixed cost, but be aware if you are following this process, there will be traveling required – if nothing else, to your consulate.

  • Finder’s Fee at WV State Archives: $15.00 + $0.44 postage
  • Sending Naturalization Papers to Mineral County: $0.88 postage (it was a thick envelope)
  • Mom’s Birth Certificate: $12.00 + $1.32 postage ($0.44 for the request, $0.88 for the return envelope)

Total cost so far: $254.67