“My place of residence is Camp Lee, Virginia”: World War I Military Naturalizations

Beginning in 1795, the United States required individuals who wished to become United States citizens to file a declaration of intent, followed by a petition for naturalization a few years later. In the midst of World War I, Congress decided on 9 May 1918 that “any alien serving in the military or naval service of the United States during the time this country is engaged in the present war may file his petition for naturalization without making the preliminary declaration of intention and without proof of the required five years’ residence within the United States.” The Library of Virginia holds 29 volumes of federal naturalization records from courts in Prince George County, Petersburg, and Hopewell, most of which document the naturalizations of soldiers stationed at Camp Lee (now Fort Lee) in Petersburg during World War I. Most volumes contain indices.

The petitions are the same form used for federal naturalizations beginning in 1906 and contain information on the petitioner’s birth, residence, occupation, military unit, immigration, spouse, and children, as well as the date that the individual became a citizen. But in this case, there was usually no supplemental paperwork, such as a declaration of intent.

As with all naturalization records of this era, an individual’s movements may be traced. Friedel Rosenquist was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, but immigrated from Gottenburg, Sweden, and claimed Swedish and British citizenship. A note in the margin indicates that his parents were Swedish, which explains how he could claim Swedish citizenship even though he was not born in that country.

Most of the naturalized soldiers were single, but many were married and left families behind.  Some did not survive.  Andrew Millachouskie reported that he received “No word over three years. Suspects wife dead,” and “No definite address known” for his children. Wasily Bobronick listed his wife and children, and someone later noted “(family reported killed in Russian Poland taken by Poland) Germany).”

Some records appear to be completed hastily and provide little information, but even in those situations, the federal government tracked individuals. On several occasions, an individual was naturalized more than once. John Strub was naturalized by the Circuit Court of Prince George County on 30 August 1918 and 25 October 1918. Interestingly, his birth date on the first petition is 4 March 1889, and the date on the second is 15 July 1889. At other times, two courts were involved. John Joseph Pavlock was naturalized by the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia on 10 June 1918 (with a birthplace of Poland) and by the Circuit Court of Prince George County on 25 October 1918 (with a birthplace of Germany).

Soldiers submitted corrections when errors came to light. Dimitrios M. Zanettulles was naturalized on 24 January 1919 and amended his petition on 21 September 1920 because it noted that he was born in Rhods, Ireland, and was a subject of George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland. He wrote, “The certificate shows that I… was a subject of Ireland, prior to my naturalization, in spite of the fact that I am a native of Italy. I was born at Asklipois, Italy, and was never at any time a subject of Ireland.”  Stanislaus Lukasiewicz as naturalized on 30 August 1918 and on 2 June 1930 petitioned to include the names of his wife and children. He stated, “Your petitioner is informed by the Bureau of Naturalization that the original petition filed by him as aforesaid stated that he is married but that no mention is made therein of his children. That at the time your petitioner was examined at Camp relative to the facts of his petition for naturalization, he stated to the officer preparing the petition that he was married and had 3 children living in the old country. That he can only account for such facts not appearing in said petition on the theory that they were inadvertently omitted by the officer preparing the petition.”

Name changes or aliases may be documented as well. Kongoman Cokolovski became Jacob Sokoloff according to the records of the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 5 August 1929.  Vincenzo Pedatella reported on 24 November 1919 “that while in Camp the Officer in charge wrote his name James Perry, stateing [sic] the reason for so doing, was that the name of James Perry would be easier to remember, shorter and easier to say.”

Some forfeited their citizenship. Many returned to their countries of origin. Others opted for other nations, such as Samuel Nick Lincoln, who was born in Pilon, Hungary, became a U.S. citizen on 20 September 1918, and became a Romanian citizen on 8 January 1935. Others returned home, but not to the same country that they left. Aleksander Zaratkiewicz was born in Warzewo, Russia. By the time that he relinquished his U.S. citizenship on 11 July 1938, Warsaw was in Poland.

Other individuals apparently never intended to become citizens. Silvester Mascioli was naturalized on 20 September 1918, and his citizenship was revoked on 26 March 1925. According to the petition that is filed with Mascioli’s record, he “intended to depart from the United States of American and reside on foreign soil and… did leave the United States of America on August 20, 1919, for Rapino, Kingdom of Italy, travelling on an Italian passport; that he has resided continuously at Rapino, Italy, since September 6, 1919; that he owns real estate at Rapino, Italy, …; that he has no definite time fixed for his return to the United States and it is presumed that he does not so intend to return.”

Despite the paucity of information, each record provides a window into the story of immigrant soldiers’ first years in the United States. The names, dates, and localities may provide leads to our sources of information, including passenger lists, census records, and even records in other countries. For more information about naturalization records at the Library, please consult Research Notes Number 9, Virginia Naturalizations, 1657-1776 and Research Notes Number 12, Virginia Naturalizations, 1776-1929.

 

-Cara Griggs, Reference Archivist

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