Julius and Brunis Paul came to America during what is today generally referred to as the “First Great Wave” of US immigration which began around 1880 and ended with the Immigration Act of 1924. Over those forty-plus years more than 25 million people came to the United States from abroad and at least 8 million of them were US citizens at the end of the period.
In the nineteenth century, becoming a US citizen was a fairly easy and straightforward process. Aliens aged 18 and over who wanted American citizenship first filed a “Declaration of Intention,” the initial formal step toward naturalization. This declaration could be filed with the clerk of any federal, state, or territorial court in the country and was designed to mark the beginning of a mandatory waiting period. From 1824 down to the elimination of the Declaration of Intention in 1952, this period amounted to two years, a time during which prospective citizens were to demonstrate their good character and their attachment to the country. The Declaration of Intention also contained an intent to formally renounce all “allegiance and fidelity” to any foreign authority or sovereign as part of demonstrating that attachment. No proof of the declarant’s status or eligibility was required. As long as one paid the fee and pledged the oath, one could declare intent.
Julius Paul made his formal Declaration of Intention for US citizenship before a clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court on 16 September 1896. He had been in America a little over four years. As part of that declaration, Julius pledged his intent “to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the Czar of Russia whereof I was heretofore a subject”.
Naturalization was the second step. Its requirements were somewhat more strict. An alien who had declared an intent to become a citizen needed to wait the minimum two years but also to establish a minimum of five years continuous residency in the United States as well as a minimum one year of continuous residency in the state. He or she also needed to produce a citizen witness who would testify to the applicant adhering to these residency requirements and to the applicant’s good character.
During the period that our Paul ancestors became naturalized Americans, only white or black aliens were eligible for naturalization in this way. Prior to 1924 the overwhelming majority of Native Americans were considered citizens of their tribal nations. Thus to become a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen Native American was required to take a distinct step to separate him/herself from the tribe, such as by marrying a US citizen, serving in the US military, or owning private property subject to taxation. No foreign-born Asians could become naturalized citizens until 1952.
On 12 October 1900 Julius Paul and his witness, twenty-two year old former neighbor Stanley Block, appeared in Cook County Criminal Court where Julius made his final citizenship oath. He pledged to support the US Constitution and formally renounced Nicholas II, Czar of Russia. We assume the rest of the family was there as well for such an important ceremony. For Brunis and Helen, moreover, this was their naturalization ceremony, too! Afterwards Julius received a certificate of naturalization complete with a seal of the court, a document that has been preserved (with a small burn mark!) and passed down for over 120 years to me.
 Stanley Block appears in the 1900 US Census living with his parents and siblings at 8850 Exchange Avenue. Two years earlier the Paul family had lived at 8845 Commercial Avenue, one block away. Stanley was born in Illinois, but his parents were both German immigrants from Poland as were Julius and Brunis.
 Alien minor children were naturalized along with their parent(s). After 1855 the alien wife of a naturalized alien man became a naturalized citizen herself upon her husband’s citizenship. Not until 1922 did US law recognize a married woman as having a nationality of her own.
Eilleen Bolger, “Background history of the United States naturalization process” (2013).
Office of the Circuit Court Clerk of Cook County (IL).
Marian L. Smith, “‘Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married …’: Women and naturalization, ca. 1802–1940,” Prologue Magazine (National Archives) (Summer 1998).
“Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign Born Population: 1850-1990,” US Census Bureau.
“History of the Declaration of Intention (1795-1956),” US Citizenship and Immigration Services (2020).