02 October 2008

Illinois: Online declarations of intent database

The Cook County (Illinois) Archives hold more than a half-million naturalization petitions, 1871-1929. Of these, 400,000 are Declarations of Intent (1906-1929), also called "first papers."

Why are these so valuable for researchers?

- These papers were generally filed closer to the time of immigration, so details were fresher in the minds of the immigrants at that earlier date;

- With higher rates of mortality in overcrowded cities, and not discounting the impact of the Great Influenza Epidemic, an immigrant could have died before filing other papers on the way to becoming a citizen; these declarations might be the only available document for an individual.

Learn more here about these records in the archives of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Search the database here.

The Declarations of Intention database was created with a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division of the National Archives. The project began in November 2006 and, since then, more than 150,000 of the Circuit Court records have been entered through 1923; additional entries are ongoing and will include through 1929 when complete. The plan is to also include the Supreme Court declarations.

What can a researcher find on a Declaration of Intention? The document includes the following fields: declaration number, name, age, occupation, physical description, birth city, birth country, birth date, current address, current city, departure, location, vessel of departure, last foreign residence, arrival location, arrival date, signature and declaration date. Most also include marital status, spouse's name, birthplace and residence information.

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