09 December 2011

Married to An Alien

From the Ancestry Daily News, 11/28/2001

Married to An Alien

A lady born in New York State is listed as an alien--why?!?

The problem centers around the history of women in regards to naturalization. I must admit the census entry confused me. The wife was a native of the state of New York State and was listed in the 1920 census as an unnaturalized alien. There is an "x" in the box for her year of immigration to the United States.

All other records clearly indicated the individual in question, Mary Verikios, had been born in New York State. While looking at other individuals on the same census page, I noted that a female neighbor born in Wisconsin was also listed as an alien with no date of naturalization or immigration. The commonality was that both ladies were married to men who were immigrant aliens. This connection warranted further study. It turned out that for these two ladies (and thousands of others), their choice of a husband impacted their citizenship.

The census entries for both women indicate they were probably married around 1910. I learned that under the law in effect at that time, both women would have lost their citizenship upon their marriage to an alien. To further compound the problem, courts during this era and for some time before frequently held that women derived their citizenship status from that of their husband. There were exceptions (single women filing homestead claims were sometimes naturalized whether they were a widow or had never been married).
The history of naturalization in the United States is somewhat complex. The complexity is aggravated for women by the fact that the laws regarding naturalization and females were ambiguous, especially before 1907. For a significant portion of American history, a woman's citizenship status was derived from the status of her husband. In many cases immigrant women were naturalized "by default" upon their marriage to a citizen or upon their foreign-born husband obtaining citizenship. This derivative type of citizenship is the reason there are few naturalization records for immigrant women for most of American history. For those who were "naturalized by marriage" there generally is no mention of them in any records before 27 September 1906, when Congress standardized the naturalization process and required names of spouse and children on naturalization paperwork. Also, until women received the right to vote, there was little reason for many to bother with the expense and procedure of naturalization. However, there are occasionally naturalization records for women in the 1880s, 1890s and later. Many of the children "naturalized by default" via their father's naturalization, but not listed specifically, later went through the naturalization process themselves.

To reduce confusion, here is a brief chronology relevant to the problem at hand:
The Basic Naturalization Act was passed on 27 September 1906, which standardized the naturalization process throughout the United States. Records after this date are more consistent than those before. No longer could just any court perform a naturalization.
On 2 March 1907 an act was passed wherein a wife's citizenship status was determined by the status of her husband. Here is where the confusion begins to get worse. For women who immigrated after this act (and before later changes were enacted), there was no real change from before (unless their husband was already a U.S. citizen). However, it was different for U.S.-born citizen females who married an alien after this date. These women would lose their citizenship status upon marriage to an alien. Many of these women would later become citizens again upon their husband's naturalization. Women who married men who were racially ineligible to naturalize lost their ability to revert back to their pre-marriage citizenship status.
On 22 September 1922, Congress passed the Married Women's Act, also known as the Cable Act. Now the citizenship status of a woman and a man were separate. This law gave each woman her own citizenship status. This act was partially drawn in response to issues regarding women's citizenship that occurred after women were given the right to vote. From this date, no marriage to an alien has taken citizenship from any U.S.-born woman. Females who had lost their citizenship status via marriage to an alien could initiate their own naturalization proceedings.
This act effected U.S. citizen women whose marriage to an alien between the acts of 1907 and 1922 had caused them to lose their citizenship status. These women, if the marriage to the alien had ended in death or divorce, could regain their citizenship by filing an application with the local naturalization court and taking an oath of allegiance. Those women still married to their husband were not covered under the act and these individuals would have to go through the complete naturalization process.
In 1940, Congress allowed all women who lost their citizenship status between 1907 and 1922 to repatriate by filling an application with the local naturalization court and taking an oath. The complete naturalization process was no longer necessary for any woman whose marriage between 1907 and 1922 caused her to lose her citizenship status.

How Does This Impace Marie?

Here's where it gets a little confusing.

Marie's husband, Peter Verikios, was naturalized in 1934. Marie and Peter divorced in 1940. Marie subsequently married another U.S. citizen a few years later. None of these events made a difference in Marie's status after she married Peter, for they all took place after the Cable Act of 1922, which separated a woman's citizenship status from that of her husband. Her marriage to Peter between 1907 and 1922 was the "problem" in regards to her citizenship status.

Where Should I Go?

It might be worth looking into possible records whereby Marie regained her citizenship status. Given the confusion that surrounded the citizenship status of women, there might be no record at all. In this case, since Marie's origins in New York State are somewhat foggy, accessing the records may shed some light on her life before she came to the Chicago area.

That one little "X" in the 1920 census really gave me a history lesson.

Smith, Marian L., "'Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married . . .' Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1840," National Archives and Records Administration Web Site: (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1998/summer/women-and-naturalization-1.html), originally published in 'Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration,' Summer 1998, vol. 30, no. 2

Szucs, Loretto D., They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records & Ethnic Origins, Salt Lake City, Utah, Ancestry, Inc., 1998.