Saturday, October 7, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: October 7

October 7, 1897 – Judge Bunn’s division of district court in St. Paul was thronged today with applicants for final letters of naturalization, and, when he adjourned court this evening, he had turned 83 alien residents into full-fledged American citizens, entitled to vote and enjoy the benefits of all the country’s institutions. Just before adjournment he broke the record for the wholesale manufacture of citizens by swearing in 20 Scandinavian aliens in a group.

Lest it be construed from this that Judge Bunn is at all careless in this work of naturalization, it is quite the contrary. He is most deliberate and painstaking in bringing to the surface every point involved in the process. He questions applicants and their witnesses thoroughly and very often the latter are put through a more rigid catechism than are the applicants.

At noon today the judge had made 37 citizens in 90 minutes. The court room was crowded with the subject of nearly every foreign government, among them being three Turks, Englishmen, Austrians, Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, a Prussian, Irishmen, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes. In every instance the oath was administered by Deputy Clerk Sandel, and the entries are made in an ante-room adjoining the court.

Judge Bunn has decided to hold no more night sessions for the purpose of naturalization until next Tuesday. Probably two nights will be set aside the forthcoming week for this work.

The Saint Paul Globe; “Need of Second Papers. It Is Being Daily Impressed on the Voters.”; Oct. 8, 1897; p. 2.

Photo taken by Pamela J. Erickson at Minnesota History Center. Released into the public
domain, as long as acknowledgement included.

“The person seeking to become a citizen first went to a local ‘court of record’ that is any court that kept permanent records of its proceedings, and declared that it was his ‘bona fide intention’ to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce allegiance to his former country. This usually involved making a sworn statement before a judge and signing a printed document. It should be noted that because women could not vote during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and few women purchased land or homesteaded, it is unusual to find a naturalization record for female immigrants before the 1920’s. Some years later (the usual required period was 5 years) the applicant would reappear before the court with two witnesses who would swear that he had been a good citizen. The applicant would then take the oath of allegiance before the judge and be officially declared a citizen of the United States. If he was married and had children born overseas, his wife and minor children would automatically become citizens. Children born to a married couple after their arrival in America were considered citizens by birth, regardless of their parents’ status.

“Most of the records from this period, both ‘declaration of intention’ and ‘final papers’, contain only basic information. At best the first papers might give port and date of arrival, and even less frequently the town or city of birth. The usual forms only listed name, date of the oath and the country of origin. Final papers were equally sparse in content including name, date of oath, country of origin and names of witnesses – these were often relatives or neighbors.”


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