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That Time My Great-Aunt Lost Her U.S. Citizenship

This past week, I've participated in the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) course, "Beyond the Golden Door: Immigrants to the U.S.A. after 1890." This year's GRIP is happening virtually, which was a boon to me because I would have otherwise missed out on this amazing class. Learn more about it here:

Although I have a lot of experience locating naturalization records and ship manifests, this class provided an in-depth exploration into pertinent immigration laws and record sets that definitely increased both my confidence and repertoire in conducting this type of research.

As I typically do during these virtual institute weeks, I find myself trying to apply some of the course learning while listening to the instructors. During one session, I decided to pay more attention to my ancestors in Maine and see if I could glean anymore information from their records. I pulled up a different collection than I had in the past on FamilySearch, "Maine, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1990." I found both my maternal great-grandfathers' naturalization papers (and learned that one actually did become naturalized and hadn't died before he completed the process as I had initially thought!), but as I inputted family surnames to explore, I was surprised to see my Great-Aunt Mim among the entries.

Aunt Mim's naturalization application and oath of allegiance.

Aunt Mim was born on 18 February 1905 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. I have the birth record to prove it. If she was born in the United States, why would she need to become a naturalized citizen?

Understanding immigration laws is crucial for solving this puzzle. Prior to the Cable Act of 1922, if an American born woman married a non-American man, she lost her citizenship under the Expatriation Act of 1907. I had never really looked into it before, but Aunt Mim's husband, James Viner aka "Uncle Jim," was apparently not even one-year-old when he immigrated to the U.S. from today's Krasnystaw, Poland, on 4 August 1903. Harry Viner, Uncle Jim's father, did not become naturalized until 1925, so Uncle Jim was too old to be covered under his father's citizenship.

Uncle Jim arrived with his mother and brother at Ellis Island on 4 August 1903.

Aunt Mim and Uncle Jim were married on 27 June 1922 in Portland, Maine. The Cable Act, which would have protected Aunt Mim's citizenship, didn't go into effect until 22 September of the same year. With her marriage, she was no longer an American citizen.

Marriage of Aunt Mim and Uncle Jim in Portland, Maine, on 27 June 1922.

(Un)Ironically, Uncle Jim became a naturalized citizen on 3 December 1929, but also because of the Cable Act, Aunt Mim couldn't regain her citizenship through her husband. The American born wife was not a citizen, while her immigrant husband was.

A photo of Aunt Mim and Uncle Jim apparently taken in 1929, the same year he became a naturalized citizen, while Aunt Mim was not.

For 18 years, Aunt Mim was not a United States citizen, a fact that was seemingly unknown within the family, and I wonder if she even realized it for all those years until it became a problem. Aunt Mim eventually became a world traveler, so I wonder if she realized her lack of citizenship when she pursued acquiring a passport? After this week, this is certainly an avenue I will continue to explore.

With the passage of the Nationality Act of 1940 on 14 October of that year, Aunt Mim became naturalized about a month later on 7 November 1940.

In addition, a very cool record set I learned about this week is Maine Alien Registrations. Maine adult alien residents were expected to register as of 14 June 1940, and 30,000 registered within the month. Again, I popped family surnames into my search, and lo and behold, there was Aunt Mim again! This is a really great resource, and I'm excited to continue using it in my Maine-based research.

This record set was such a great surprise! And the research subject was an even greater surprise!

GRIP this week has been truly invaluable, and as always, I encourage everyone to participate in genealogy education if they can. This course was exactly what I needed to grow my skillset, and I'm excited to continue applying the new information to my personal and professional work.


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