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Archives In Brief 3 - Naturalization records, 1834-1903

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Lists the key records held by State Records relating to naturalization, 1834-1903.

What is naturalization?

NRS 905: Naturalization Application for Hortense Musti from Normandy, 1864 [64/5088].She settled in the Grafton region and married a fellow Frenchman, Francois Joseph AdamNaturalization is the means by which aliens (non-British subjects) gain the privileges and rights of citizenship held by British subjects or people born in New South Wales.

There was no law covering naturalization before 1849. Prior to that year, the process of naturalization was known as denization and could only be performed through an Act of Parliament. Denization gave an alien the right to own land. The Act to Amend the Laws relating to Aliens, 1849 (No 11 Vic No 39) established the system of naturalization, which gave much broader rights and made denization obsolete.

Who needed to become naturalized?

Any person born outside the British Empire who had resided in New South Wales for a period of five years and who wished to vote or own land needed to become naturalized.

This means that within the records, researchers will mainly find people from European countries as well as from countries such as China, the United States of America and South America. Researchers will not find people from Canada or Ireland as both of these countries were part of the British Empire.

Given the make-up of society in the 19th century when women had few legal rights and little social standing, researchers will also mainly find men in the naturalization records.

Why use naturalization records?

Naturalization records generally provide:

  • full name
  • native place
  • occupation
  • age, and
  • date and ship of arrival.

Clearly then naturalization records can be a good source of information for tracing details of an immigrant ancestor's arrival and native place overseas.

How to use naturalization records

1. Check the Naturalization index

Search images Search the Naturalization Index, 1834-1903

2. Check the records

The Index then leads to the following records:

NRS 1038, Letters of Denization, 1834-47
Reel 128A

NRS 1039, Certificates of Naturalization, 1849-76
Reels 2688-2699

NRS 1040, Registers of Certificates of Naturalization, 1849-59, 1876-1903
Reels 128A-141A

NRS 1041, Lists of Aliens to whom Certificates of Naturalization have been issued, 1859-76
Reel 130

Where to find applications for naturalization up to 1903

Application papers for naturalization often contain more information than the naturalization certificates. The applications can be found by searching under the name of the person naturalized in the Indexes and Registers to the Main Series of Letters Received of the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence.

Indexes and Registers are available on microfilm in the reading room. The applications are part of the original (uncopied) Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. Check with reading room staff for the location of the original correspondence.

For further information on the correspondence see:

Problems with using naturalization records

The main difficulty with using naturalization records relates to the accuracy of the records. Information concerning each individual was dependent on the information being provided by them and was therefore dependent on their own knowledge and memory. It is not unusual, for example, for date of arrival or name of vessel to be incorrect or unknown.

For naturalization after 1903

Naturalization was the responsibility of each colony until the end of 1903. From 1 January 1904, under the Naturalization Act No 11 1903, the Commonwealth then assumed sole responsibility for naturalization. Naturalization records after 1903 are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA).

For further information

More detailed information on denization and naturalization is available by consulting Short Guide 9 which is available in the reading room.

Researchers should consult Archives Investigator and Archives in Brief 103: How to find naturalization records.

*ARK signifies that a copy of the record or guide is part of the Archives Resources Kit and is held by the community access points.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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