The Works Progress Administration Index to Texas Naturalizations, Texas State District and County Courts, 1846-1939
By: Karen Stein Daniel, C.G.
on May 1998
Last Updated: 2007-05-14 14:30:38
Karen Stein Daniel is a certified genealogist specializing in Texas
research and is a past president of Clayton Library Friends.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many well-educated people also found themselves out of work. These included college graduates, teachers, writers, researchers, historians, reporters, executives, and investigators, among others. Because of this, the Works Progress Administration, later called the Works Projects Administration (WPA), an arm of the federal government, began several projects designed to provide suitable work for these “white collar” unemployed.
Among their projects was the Historical Records Survey of the entire continental United States. This work-relief project became the most extensive archival survey ever undertaken in this country. For this project, many types of records were scheduled for examination and publication, including surveys, inventories, lists, and various manuscript collections from federal, state, county or parish, and municipal or town records. Additionally, the survey would identify the agency or court having jurisdiction at that time. The work began in 1936 and continued until 1942 when World War II required the nation to turn its efforts elsewhere.
From 1936 through 1942, much of the collected data was published by the Historical Records Survey and/or the individual states. Most, however, was still in manuscript form by 1942, when the project terminated. In the majority of cases, the information collected was turned over to the various states. In this process, some of the unpublished data was lost or destroyed. In many cases, however, the information is still available for researchers, if they know where to find it.
A great deal of this compiled information is of significant value to genealogists and family historians who will take the time to learn what is available for their state. Your task as a researcher begins by determining whether the records you seek have been moved, misplaced, or destroyed. When you do find these valuable sources, you may return again and again as they help to unlock your family’s past.
Among the most important and sought after records for genealogists and family historians are those pertaining to naturalization, for they can ultimately lead us to the origin of our ancestor before his or her immigration to the United States. A primary goal in our research is usually to pinpoint the immigrant ancestor, the first generation in America. This is often an elusive task, because early naturalization records may be spread over many jurisdictions and areas where our ancestor lived. There are no hard and fast rules prior to 1906 for locating where one applied to become a citizen and then ultimately did become one. Additionally, many of our ancestors never actually completed the process or even began it. We may, therefore, be searching for documentation that does not exist.
Further, until the twentieth century, the privilege of citizenship was not extended to every ethnic group. As an example, a federal law in 1882 prohibited the Chinese from becoming citizens. Alternatively, large numbers of foreigners sometimes became U.S. citizens without the need for individual legal proceedings. Such was the case for residents of territories annexed by the U.S. during the nineteenth century. Hawaii and Puerto Rico were such examples.
A main point to remember is that, prior to 27 September 1906, a person could be naturalized by any federal, state, or local court in the country. On that date, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was established, and with it all U.S. courts were required to follow certain guidelines regarding naturalization. This included forwarding a complete copy of each new file to Washington, D.C., where a master index was established for the entire country, arranged alphabetically. From 1906 forward, our search was made easier.
Clayton Library is indeed fortunate to count among its holdings the ten rolls of microfilm that are the WPA Index to Texas Naturalizations, Texas State District and County Courts, 1846-1939 (film 7RA211). This collection can be found in the second floor microprint area, cabinet 48, drawer 2. These records comprise part of the National Archives Southwest Region (Fort Worth, Texas), Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, San Antonio District Office, and they have been microfilmed for preservation reasons.
The records are alphabetical by county, then by name within that county. Not all counties are represented. The following counties are represented, along with the roll number where they may be found:
- Roll #1: Bexar County.
- Roll #2: Anderson, Angelina, Aransas, Archer, Atascosa, Austin, Bandera, Bastrop, Baylor, Bee, Bell, Blanco, Bosque, Bowie, Brazoria, Brazos, Brown, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Camp, Cass, and Chambers counties.
- Roll #3: Cherokee, Clay, Coke, Coleman, Collin, Colorado, Comal, Comanche, Concho, Cooke, Coryell, Crockett, Dallas, Delta, Denton, DeWitt, Dimmit, Duval, Eastland, Edwards, Ellis, Erath, Falls, and Fannin counties.
- Roll #4: Fayette, Foard, Fort Bend, Freestone, Frio, Gillespie, Goliad, and Gonzales counties.
- Roll #5: Grayson, Gregg, Grimes, and Guadalupe counties.
- Roll #6: Galveston County (A-H) and Galveston County (I-Z).
- Roll #7: Hamilton, Hardeman, Hardin, Harris, Harrison, Haskell, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hill, Hood, Hopkins, Houston, Hunt, Irion, Jack, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Johnson, Jones, Karnes, Kaufman, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, Knox, Lamar, Lampasas, LaSalle, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Limestone, Live Oak, Llano, Madison, Marion, and Mason counties.
- Roll #8: Maverick, McCulloch, McLennan, McMullen, Medina, Menard, Milam, Mills, Montague, Montgomery, Morris, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Palo Pinto, Panola, Parker, Polk, Rains, Red River, Refugio, Robertson, Rockwall, Runnels, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, San Saba, Shackelford, Shelby, Smith, Starr, Stephens, Sterling, Sutton, Tarrant, Taylor, Throckmorton, and Tom Green counties.
- Roll #9: Travis, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Uvalde, Val Verde, Van Zandt, Victoria, Walker, Waller, and Washington counties.
- Roll #10: Webb, Wharton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Wilson, Wise, Wood, Young, Zapata, and Zavala counties.
The records represented are in the format of a typed index to the naturalization records located in each of the above county’s state district and county courts. The information given in each entry includes the following:
- Birth date or age
- Country of allegiance
- Whether a state district or county court
- Date of naturalization proceedings
- Whether record was a petition, declaration, or affidavit
- Where proceedings were filed and location of original record as of 1930s.
The following example is from the Index to Naturalization Records for Austin County, Roll #2:
|Record Reference |
|Name of Court |
|Nature of |
Cit. Nat. Rec.
Vol. Unmarked, p. 40
Nov. 7, 1855
Aff. of Arr.
Cit. Nat. Rec.
Vol. Unmarked, p. 40
Nov. 7, 1855
Pet. for Nat.
Dist. Ct. Civ. Min.
Vol. D-2, p. 488
June 7, 1858
Pet. for Nat.
June 7, 1858
Grant of Cit.
Using the above example, we note that because [D]ietrich Stein appeared in Austin County for all of his naturalization proceedings, we are fortunate in not having to search other counties where he may have migrated to or through in order to pinpoint his route to full citizenship. We can surmise that he probably remained in Austin County for some time and that our chances will be good for locating him in other Austin County records. A review of the Affidavit of Arrival will confirm the date of his arrival into the “United States in the month of June A.D. 1852.” This will, in turn, lead us in a search for passenger lists and other records that will help establish his town or village of origin in Germany. In this case, we will eventually establish that he came directly from Germany to Austin County, that he owned land, raised a family, and lived there until his death.
A slightly different example may be observed in the Index to Naturalization Records for Bexar County, Roll #1:
County | District
Bk | Pg
Original Papers Filed
Oct 31, 1884
Jan 30, 1889
Oct 30, 1869
Mar 24, 1855
May 16, 1857
Feb 5, 1889
In the above example, you will note that in some instances, the original papers are filed as document numbers within a box in the county or district court. In these cases, we will be eager to search the boxes, as there may be additional documents to be found there in our ancestor’s naturalization process. Note also in these examples, apparently only one person, Frederick Ackermann, had both his declaration filed and citizenship granted in Bexar County. Perhaps a review of the documentation in Bexar County for each of the others will lead us to another county for additional clues and records in the naturalization process.
When searching the various indexes within each of the counties, make sure to look for any special notes or instructions at the beginning and end of the county’s listing. For example, Bexar County offers the following clarification for the location of District Court records, as of the 1930s:
District Clerk's Record Vault, Third Floor Courthouse
District Court Civil Minutes
District Court Naturalization Records
District Court Naturalization Papers"
Additional notes include a list of abbreviations used and their meanings and a list entitled “Unusual Characteristics,” which tells us the following:
"Possibility of surname and given-name being reversed;
Letters in old hand written records difficult to distinguish
(A-O, E-I, F-T, L-S, Q-Z);
Himinez, Jiminez and Ximinez are all listed under Jiminez;
In Spanish names, B is often used for V, and S for Z;
Age shown is as of date of Declaration unless no Declaration
Naturalization records are vital but often elusive keys in our genealogical research. The fact that those of us using Clayton Library have access to this useful tool should encourage each of us with immigrant ancestors in Texas to use it to its fullest potential. Likewise, becoming familiar with the WPA Historical Records Survey for all our U.S. research may lead us to previously overlooked sources. We should never neglect any source that provides us the chance to expand our treasure chest of research methodology.
- Hefner, Loretta L., comp. The W.P.A. Historical Records Survey: A Guide to the Unpublished Inventories, Indexes and Transcripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1980. (GEN 973 H461 USA)
- Heisey, John W. The W.P.A. Historical Records Survey: Sources for Genealogists. Indianapolis: Heritage House, 1988.
- Moulton, Joy Wade. “Unexpected Aids in Completing Ancestral Charts: The W.P.A. Surveys.” Paper presented at the National Genealogical Society Conference in the States, Houston, Texas, June 1994.
- Newman, John J. American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790-1985. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1985. (GEN 973 N553 USA)
- Schwarz, Gregory C. “From Whence They Came: Locating an Immigrant’s Origin Through Naturalization Records.” The Genealogical Helper, November-December, 1980, pp. 11-15.
Last modified on Nov. 4, 2008
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