Creating Newly Minted Citizens in Sweetwater County

Sweetwater County boasts an amazing variety of ethnicities, thanks in large part to the abundance of coal mines in the area. Starting in 1867, with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, young men from all over Europe and Asia flooded into the area seeking quick cash in the mines. They came from Austria, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Great Britain, China, Hungary, France, and elsewhere. Some of these young men saw potential in these mining communities and decided to stay and build their lives in the area. For many, this included gaining citizenship.

Certificate of Citizenship issued in Sweetwater County to Romedio Anselmi, 1900.  (WSA, Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Certificate of Citizenship issued in Sweetwater County to Romedio Anselmi, 1900.
(WSA, Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

During the heyday of immigration to Sweetwater County, the naturalization process was organized by the Department of Labor but actually carried out by the counties, which means that many of the naturalization records are filed at the county level rather than the national level. In Sweetwater County, this meant that the district court retained the letters of intent, petitions and citizenship oaths between approximately 1900 and 1930. These records were eventually transferred  to the Wyoming State Archives for permanent storage.

The process to gain citizenship was simple, if lengthy. The first step was to file a Declaration of Intent, which many immigrants filed almost immediately upon stepping foot in America. After 5 years of continued residency, they could apply to their county of residence for naturalization. As proof, they were required to produce 2 character witnesses, each of whom was interviewed and their answers documented on a form. Once all of the information and documentation was verified, they could be granted citizenship, renouncing all allegiance to their former homes and gaining all of the rights and privileges of a US citizen.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, CO certificate of intent

Some of the Declaration of Intention certificates include beautiful artwork. This one is from Arapahoe County,  Colorado.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Sweetwater Naturalizations, John Berchiero, Declaration of Intention from Will Co, IL 1892

An example of a Declaration of Intention certificate from Will County, Illinois.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

The naturalization files provide a fascinating peek into the lives of those immigrants who were applying for citizenship. The records show immigrants from Austria, Finland, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Greece, Russia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, France and Spain.  Most of these men were miners or railroad workers, but  others worked as barkeeps, shoemakers, hotel owners, and even a Catholic priest. The Fact for Petition of Naturalization forms provide wonderful biographical information, including when and where they were born, where and how they arrived in the country, their present occupation, family members, and if they were sponsored by anyone.

The Facts for Petition of Naturalization form for Angelo Signorelli states that he was from Italy and worked as a shoemaker in Rock Springs. He arrived by himself, but at some point must have sent for his wife and children as they are shown living in Rock Springs as well.

The Facts for Petition of Naturalization form for Angelo Signorelli states that he was  Italian and worked as a shoemaker in Rock Springs. He arrived by himself, but at some point must have sent for his wife and children as they are shown living in Rock Springs as well.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Citizenship was a family affair. A man’s wife and minor children were also granted citizenship under his name. Matters could be complicated if the husband died after he filed his declaration but before he was granted citizenship. Once the requisite time had past, the widow would file her forms under her husbands’ name rather than her own. Their minor children would still be granted citizenship under their parents.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, Mrs William Preece, English widowed housewife, facts for Petition 2pg

According to her Facts for Application for Naturalization form, Mrs William Preece was widowed before her husband was granted citizenship, which meant that she had to apply under her husbands name in order for the names on the paperwork to match.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

While minors (those under 21 years of age) could not become citizens on their own, they could file a declaration of intent at age 18 and for citizenship at age 21, if they met the 5 year residency requirement.

Every once in a while, new citizenship would be revoked, sometimes even after the person’s Certificate of Citizenship had been issued. According to the paperwork filed in Sweetwater County, in most, if not all, of these instances in the county were because the applicant had not met the necessary residency requirement.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, John Berchiero, Rules & Regs, revocation, Giovanni Corazzo

This letter gives the specific reasons Giovanni Corrazo’s naturalization was revoked.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Sweetwater Naturalizations, cancelled citizenship certifs

Cancelled citizen certificates. In both of these cases, citizenship was revoked because officials found out that the applicant had not lived in the US long enough to qualify for citizenship.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

The men who arrived at the mines were often sponsored by representatives of the mine. The sponsors would meet and escort the new recruits to Sweetwater County, help them find lodging and report for work. They often also acted as witnesses when the men applied for citizenship.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, Notice of Application for Admission to Citizenship

The same two men stood up as witnesses for nearly all of the applicants of this page. These two were probably employees at the mine. Since they would have seen the applicants at work on a regular basis, they were qualified to say whether the men had indeed met the residency requirement.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under WSA Collection Highlights

8 responses to “Creating Newly Minted Citizens in Sweetwater County

  1. Clint Black

    Re: Mrs. Preece

    What irony! Here she resides, in a state that had granted suffrage 40 years before her petition, now having no individual right except through her husband to petition for citizenship at the national level.

    Re:

    Giovanni “Corrazo,” citizenship revoked
    First of all, Anderson, the court’s agent, misspells the surname. It would have been Corazza. He was Austrian Tirol, just like his Tirolese friends, Anselmi and Zuech, whose names are handwritten for unknown reason in the bottom left corner of the document. How do I know? That is the surname of my own maternal grandfather, a former Tirolese naturalized in Weston County.

    Anderson’s gaffe in my mind is no more severe than Giovanni lawfully claiming draft exemption but errantly forgetting that for purposes of naturalization. In truth, his English proficiency likely was at the source of his “perjury;” not his character. Most of the Tirolese came over here hungry, and they cared not one iota about retaining fidelity to their homeland. They wanted to be American.

    And with Giovanni, there was also irony. After WW1, his homeland was ceded to Italy by a companion to the Treaty of Versailles. The Tirolese were not Italian and they were now homeless by heritage. To the last man, they would have rather been shot vs. expressing fidelity to Italy!

    A final indignity. In the 1930 census, the Tirolese had to falsely declare they were Italian–the name of their homeland by which it is “CURRENTLY” known. I have seen innumerable instances on the census where “Tirol” was crossed out and “Italy” was superimposed. My Tirolese randfather, a fiercely proud Naturalized American, would have had a very sour stomach over that.

  2. My own grgandfather was a Tirolese living/working in Rock Springs, WY coal mines. Tho, he was already a naturalized US citizen, he was residing with one of the men(&family) on the citizenship notification above. So, yes, a BIG thank you!

  3. btw, i have been on the march to get all of the ‘Annual Reports of the WY State Coal Mine Inspectors’ digitized and accessible online. Why? Tho, some are available on HathiTrust&Google (not easy to find), there is quite a bit of good anecdotal information on living&working conditions, but mainly because thousands of immigrants lost their lives and/or were injured in WY coal mines. These reports provide the official details of those events. It seems to me that it’s not too much to ask WY to make their information easily accessible to the on-line researcher of today, and perhaps dedicate the availability of it, to those miners.

    • Hi LaundryPrncss, We completely agree! The Coal Mine Inspector’s annual reports are an excellent source of information about the mines and miners, especially the obituaries they included for each of the men killed in a mining accident. And we are working on digitizing them and many other records as we speak in order to make them available in a digital repository we are currently working to set up. We haven’t mentioned it much here because it isn’t quite ready to open to the public, but we are hoping it will be soon. We’ll keep you posted!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s