Becoming American in 1908
The process didn’t always go smoothly.
More than 100 years ago, there was a regularly scheduled process for becoming a naturalized United States citizen in a place in Jamestown.
The process wasn’t that hard either.
For example, in March of 1908, five new citizens were added to the roster of Americans at the Stutsman County Courthouse.
The laws at that time made the wife and any dependent children citizens at the same time the husband took the Oath of Allegiance. In this case, five new families became American citizens in the courtroom of what is now the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse Historic Site.
The process started with the immigrant making a declaration of intent by taking an oath before the local clerk of court. The oath included a statement renouncing any other citizenships the person might hold from foreign countries.
After that was filed, the prospective American had to reside within the United States for at least two years but less than seven. Then they could make an application for citizenship including statements from at least two witnesses that they were of good moral character.
If all that was in order, there was an investigation by federal agents and a hearing before the judge, in this case, Judge E.T. Burke of Valley City.
After the judge reviewed the information and the hearing, he could administer the Oath of Allegiance and order the new citizen be granted a certificate of citizenship.
The process didn’t always go smoothly. In March 1908, five people became citizens but two were delayed because the witness statements weren’t in order. Another was denied because he missed the court hearing. They would have their next chance in April when Judge Burke was back in Jamestown.
But there were other issues. One applicant who was homesteading near Medina was put on hold because he was originally from near Damascus in Palestine. That case required more research by immigration officials.
Citizenship laws haven’t changed that much over the past century. Veterans now have an expedited path to citizenship and, since 1922, women became citizens on their own rather than when their husband was naturalized.
The process is still in place, we just don’t see it often in the courthouses of North Dakota anymore.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at