How to Obtain Naturalization Records in One Hour

by Moishe Miller
Waltham, Philadelphia, East Point, Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, Laguna Niguel CA, San Bruno CA, Seattle WA, New York City. If you are fortunate enough to live in one of these cities, there is a wealth of information waiting for you. The National Archives maintains regional offices in all of these cities. Their information is both comprehensive and inexpensive, usually only twenty-five cents per copy. Access is free and there are informed archivists always on hand for assistance. The three sources I have seen most frequently used are the US censuses, passenger manifests for ship arrivals, and naturalization records. The later two usually contain accurate information, while the census records are more prone to inaccuracies.
Since November of 1992 I have been researching my Miller family's history. The tree now contains well over six thousand people, all descended from one individual. He was Avrohm Aba Miller (Müller), born circa 1765, and died circa 1848. The tree spans eleven generations and covers six continents. The ingredients necessary for composing a large tree are persistence, diligence, ingenuity, and mazal. The National Archives offers the potential for expanding and enriching a family's history. I will not touch on the census because its benefits are fairly obvious. The passenger arrival manifests will give a physical description of your ancestor. It will also state city and country of birth and quite frequently, addresses of relatives both here and abroad. The naturalization record will give an exact birthdate, birthplace, spousal information, and statistics concerning any children. Sometimes there is even a picture of the petitioner.
I have seen many people walk into the archives, not quite knowing what to expect. The archives filing design was created so that information could be extracted in a fairly short amount of time. With a proper set of guidelines, it is quite simple to obtain an individual's ship records and naturalization papers in under an hour. I will illustrate a step by step procedure, using my own experience at the New York City Regional Branch. I was trying to find out more about a cousin that came to the US well before World War II. All I knew was that her name was Nellie/Nissel Kahan. Her mother was Basha Kahan, nee Müller, from Bukowsko, Galicia. Nellie married here to Julius Harnik. She was one of ten children and she had no children of her own. I had previously obtained her Florida death certificate through the Social Security death Index. My aim was to find out more about her background because I knew nothing else about her siblings or their offspring.

Step 1: Before going anywhere, obtain the Soundex code for the last name in question. In my case, the names were Kahan and Harnik. These correspond to K500 and H652, respectively. If you do not know how to generate a Soundex code do not worry. The Archives has a computer that can generate them for you. It is located in the back left, behind the reception desk. If you have a JavaScript capable browser, you can use my Soundex generator.

Step 2: Go to the National Archives, located at 201 Varrick Street, 12th floor. The number 1 train stops right on the corner (Houston Street Station). After passing through the metal detectors go all the way to your right. Use the small bank of elevators around the corner (behind the ones on the right). They are faster. Once you get off the elevator, go left, past the freight elevators and through the closed doors. The Archives are through the open door on the right side, immediately after the men's room. Sign in and get a microfilm reader. I arrived at 12:15.

Step 3: Go to the front table that has all the index books. The first index needed is T621. This reference contains an index to all the passenger arrivals for the port of New York City from July 1, 1902, through 1957. It is stored in Soundex order. Looking up K500 for Nellie Kahan, the index pointed to roll 341. Julius/Nellie Harnik (H652) pointed to roll 287. Write down T621; 287, 341.
(Note: for June 16, 1897, through June 30, 1902, reference T519.)

Step 4: The next index to consult is M1676. This is an index of all petitions for naturalization for the Southern District Court of New York. This covers both Manhattan and the Bronx. It is sorted by last name, no Soundex is needed. However, it is broken down into separate time frames. Since I was not sure when Nellie arrived in the US or when she naturalized, I looked in two separate lists. The 1917 - 1929 list showed Harnik in roll 40 and Kahan in roll 42. The 1929-1941 list showed Harnik in roll 75 and Kahan in roll 78. Write down M1676; 40, 42, 75, 78.

Step 5: Now its time to go get the films. T621 (arrivals) is stored in the far right (rear) corner, in the bottom drawers of cabinet 39 and top drawers of cabinet 40. Both 287 and 341 were in cabinet 39. I took both films. Note: Do not confuse T621 with T612, both are stored next to each other.

Step 6: Index M1676 (naturalizations) was two cabinets to my right, in number 41, in the middle drawers. I took all four films (40, 42, 75, 78).

Step 7: I went to my assigned reader with my six films in hand and started with the T621 (arrivals) series. Since the whole roll was K500, I did not have to first locate my particular Soundex section. Within the Soundex, the entries are sorted by first name, and then usually by age. Unfortunately, this is not a hard and fast rule. I found three possible entries.

K500 Kahan, Nelly	25f		22	40	8808
K500 Kahn, Nelly	26f		5	49	8701
K500 Kahn, Nelly	35f		29	15	13879
I will use the first entry as an explanation of how to interpret this data. Nelly Kahan, a 25 year old female, is referenced on line 22, page 40, of volume 8808. The volume corresponds to the year of arrival. I wrote all three possibilities down.

Step 8: I went back to the front desk and looked up the time frame for 8701, 8808 and 13879, in Anderson's reference. This can be found in the beginning of the index book that says Passenger and Crew Lists. The first two numbers were in 1926, the last in 1939.

Step 9: I went back to my microfilm reader and referenced the M1676 film (index to naturalization). Bearing in mind that continuous residence for five years is required to petition, the earliest date I was interested in was 1931. This discounted the 1917 - 1929 films I had taken. Since I did not know when Nellie Kahan had married Julius Harnik, I looked in both films for 1929 - 1941. In roll 42 I found no entries for Julius Harnik (although I did find a Jozef Leib Harnik, this subsequently turned out to be a false lead). In roll 78 I found one entry.

Nellie Harnik		196755
Name changed by marriage from Hahan: 9 - 28 - 38.
Although it listed her name change as Hahan, rather than Kahan, I was sure this must be her.

Step 10: I went back to the front desk and took a research form. I wrote down my name and research number on the top. Then I entered the entry for Nellie Harnik, Southern District, and 196755 as the volume to be searched. (I also put in an entry for that Jozef Leib Harnik).

Step 11: While waiting for an archivist to bring out the information I requested, I went back to the front desk with my T621 (arrivals) candidates. I referenced the T715 section of the book labeled Passenger and Crew Lists. The T715 listing cross-references the volume number found in T621 to the actual microfilm number stored in the cabinets. On Nellie's death certificate it said she was "about 90" when she passed away in 1990. The volume 13879 entry from the T621 index noted that she was 35 in 1939. That would make her about 85 when she passed away. I temporarily discounted that entry. I looked up the other two T621 index volume entries in the T715 listing. Volume 8701 covered ships arriving on May 3/5, 1926. It was stored on microfilm roll 3843. Volume 8808 covered August 16/17, 1926, and was stored on microfilm roll 3905.

Step 12: Wait for archivist to return with the M1676 index (naturalization) documents. (Actually, I did not have to wait, he showed up right away).

Step 13: The M1676 (naturalizations) information consisted of three forms, the certificate of arrival, declaration of intent, and petition for naturalization. Looking at the certificate of arrival, I saw that Nellie arrived on August 17, 1926. I gave the documents back to the archivist and asked for a copy to be made. It was five pages.

Step 14: I now knew that I wanted T715 microfilm roll numbered 8808 because it covered August 16/17, 1926. This is the same timeframe that the certificate of arrival referenced. The T715 films are kept along the right hand wall, in cabinets 42 through 47, with more recent entries in the archive area. Do not confuse the microfilm number with the volume number. My film was in cabinet 44. I took it to my reader.

Step 15: The film started with volume 8807, so I skipped until the beginning of volume 8808. The first page told me that the volume contained only two ships. Based on the vessel listed on the certificate of arrival, I noted that the boat I was interested in was first. I immediately went to page 40, line 22. As it almost always happens, Nellie Kahan was not at that entry. The page numbers always refer to some other numbering scheme than that stamped at top. The line number is usually correct. I rolled back to the beginning, and started looking at every page with a line 22 entry. About halfway through I found Nellie's entry. I removed the film with out rolling it back up, by also taking off the second reel. I went back to the front desk.

Step 16: I asked for, and received, assistance in printing the two pages of information from the ship manifest. After I finished printing, I rolled the film up on the printing machine. Its motorized and took only seconds.

Step 17: I gathered up all my films and paper, shut of the microfilm reader, and returned all the films to their appropriate cabinets.

Step 18: I went up front and picked up my copy of the T621 (arrivals) records I ordered in step 13, Nellie's naturalization documents. I paid for the seven copies (five T621 papers and two ship manifests) I had made at 25 cents apiece, for a total of $1.75. It was 1:10.

So what did I find out? Nelly arrived in New York aboard the SS Mauretania out of Cherbourg, France, on Aug. 17, 1926. The passenger manifest listed Nelly Kahan, age 25 & single, last living at Sighathul Mantati, Ilic Mares 24. Received visa # 27 in Budapest on 20/7/26. Her passage was paid by her uncle, Joseph Kahan, living at 485 Jackson Ave., Bronx NY. Nelly was 5' 2", fair complexion, brown eyes, and brown hair. She was born in Sighet Rumania.
The naturalization records told me that Nelly was born on June 29, 1901. She was in the "neckwear" occupation in 1927 and lived at 584 Concord Ave. in New York. In 1932 she was not married, lived at 500 Trinity Ave., Bronx NY, and was a neckwear worker. The two witnesses on her Petition for Citizenship were her uncle, Joseph Kahan, living at the same address as Nelly, listed as a neckwear worker. Isaac Berger of 321 E. 178th St., Bronx NY, a dress cutter, was the other witness. The INS from Miami, FL, included a notice that on 12/5/63 Nelly changed her naturalization certificate to reflect her 9/28/38 marriage to a Harnik.
Not bad for a one hour investment.


I would be very interested to hear from anyone with knowledge or an interest in the Miller family.

Moishe Miller

My home address is
           1374 East 28th Street
           Brooklyn NY 11210-5311

Last updated 4/5/00