Below I am going to share a brief step-by-step guide to the process of applying for dual citizenship. It does not touch on all of the unusual circumstances you are probably going to encounter as you go through this process, but it will at least help you know what to expect and in what order you should be doing things. For a much more comprehensive guideline of each step of the process, I highly recommend the Dual US Italian Citizenship website. Click the drop down arrow at the top where it says Citizenship By Descent to find detailed instructions for each of the brief steps I outline below.
Once you’ve decided you want to apply for Dual Citizenship (have you reviewed the Pros/Cons list?), you will need to go to the citizenship page of the website for the Italian Consulate in whose jurisdiction you reside to get your appointment scheduled. The wait time for an appointment is often quite a long time (often 1-2 years), so I recommend doing this first. Don’t be discouraged by that wait time—you will likely need every second of that time to gather all of the required documents and get corrections, translations and authentications. Remember that you can always cancel your appointment or try to trade for an earlier or later appointment if necessary. Directions for making appointments are on the Citizenship page of your Consulate’s website. Also, remember that dates in Italian are written in European format (day/month/year), so make sure you understand the date of your appointment accurately. For more help with appointments, visit the Dual US Italian Citizenship Appointment Tips page.
At this point, you should know the citizenship category or categories that apply to your particular family story, which consulate you will be using and you should have your appointment made. The next step is to find documentation establishing the naturalization status of your Italian immigrant ancestor. This is perhaps the most important piece of your Dual Citizenship application because it determines whether or not you will qualify at all. Your chance at citizenship hinges on whether or not your Italian immigrant ancestor became a US citizen and if he/she did become a US citizen, exactly when they did so is vitally important.
If they never became a US citizen, you have to prove that by showing that you searched every possible resource for their naturalization documents and nothing was found. Alternatively, if they DID become a US citizen, you have to prove that they naturalized AFTER their child (that you descend from) was born in the US. This is because until August 16, 1992, when an Italian citizen became a naturalized US citizen, they had to renounce (give up) their Italian citizenship–they could not be dual citizens. If they gave up their Italian citizenship BEFORE their child (that you descend from) was born, then they no longer had citizenship to pass down to that child because they had renounced it already. This page provides great information on the types of documents you will need to prove whether or not your ancestor naturalized – Dual US Italian Citizenship Naturalization Documents Page
If you don’t already know when/if your immigrant ancestor became naturalized, you can often find clues in the many resources on FamilySearch, Ancestry.com and a number of other genealogy sites. For example, the census records for 1900-1940 had a column for citizenship status. Several sites also have extensive immigration and naturalization databases that should be searched. In fact, your ancestor’s original ship manifest could have annotations about their naturalization. Even WW1 and WW2 Draft Registrations may indicate citizenship status. Although you will still need to obtain official copies to use as proof, you should always search these resources first as you may find really helpful information that will make it much easier to request those official copies.
Prior to September 1906, any municipal, county, state or Federal court could grant United States Citizenship. If you believe your ancestor naturalized before this date, you will have to request searches in the municipal, county and state courts where your ancestor lived. The National Archives typically holds records from Federal Courts. Do keep in mind that if your ancestor naturalized before 1906, you may not be eligible for citizenship at all because of the 1912 rule. The 1912 rules states that if your Italian immigrant ancestor became a naturalized citizen before July 1, 1912, they and all of their children under the age of 21 (regardless of where/when born) lost their Italian citizenship and could therefore not pass it on to anyone else.
After September 1906, the responsibility of granting citizenship was transferred to the Federal Courts and these records are typically (but not always) held by the National Archives. You can send an email to the National Archives facility serving the state where the immigrant lived and ask for a search of their records. You can usually find the email address on the home page for each facility. Provide as much detail as possible–name of immigrant ancestor as well as possible alternate names, date and place of birth, where the ancestor lived in the United States from arrival to date of death, names of spouse and children, immigration date, and any information found in other documents about their naturalization status. They use that information to confirm they find the correct records, because there may be a number of immigrants with the same or similar names in the records. The search is free and if they find records, you can request certified copies for a relatively small fee. If they don’t find anything, they will usually refer you to other places to search for the records and will even provide contact information. If they don’t find the records, ask them to send you, in the regular mail, a letter stating they did not find anything. At the very least, save the email you receive saying they didn’t find anything. You may need that as evidence.
If you don’t have any success at the National Archives, your next stop is the USCIS Genealogy Page. This is where you can request a search of all USCIS records for your ancestor’s naturalization documents. You will need to start with an index search, which can be requested online. When you get the results of the index search, if they have found any records for your ancestor, you can then request copies of the naturalization records using the Record Request (done online from the same page as the Index Search). These records are NOT certified, so make sure you save any cover letters and the envelope they come in to prove to the Consulate where you got them. If they found no record of the naturalization, you would request a Certificate of Non-Existence, which proves that your ancestor did not become naturalized and is required by the Consulate. The instructions for making that request are included when they tell you they didn’t find anything. They may also respond that they found Alien Registration Forms or other such documents. Get copies of those, as they are further proof that your ancestor did not naturalize.
If you have not found naturalization records for your ancestor at the National Archives, the USCIS or the municipal, county and state courts, you are going to need more evidence to prove your ancestor did not naturalize. Some consulates will ask you to supply a copy of the census record from just after your American-born ancestor was born. This is because the census had a spot for the immigrant to state their citizenship status and the Consulate wants to make sure that it says they were not naturalized. You will need to find your ancestors in the census before making this request, because you have to fill in information from the census page to help them find the correct page to make the copy. You can request those records from the National Archives here: Census Records.
Next, from the Citizenship page on your Consulate’s website, review the list of documents they require. In general, you will need certified, long-form copies of birth, marriage and death certificates for every person from your Italian immigrant ancestor all the way down to yourself. These documents provide the proof of your direct lineage back to an Italian ancestor. I highly recommend getting more than one copy because you may need certified documents to get corrections made on other documents. You will also need the naturalization papers for your Italian immigrant ancestor or proof that he/she never became a US citizen (see above). And you will need certified copies of any divorce decrees as well as proof that the divorce is not being appealed (called a Letter of No Appeal).
Each Consulate may have extra requirements as well. For example, the Miami Consulate does not require non-Italian line documents (birth/death records of people that married into your Italian side) but other consulates DO require those. Or, the Boston Consulate requires translations to be notarized and apostilled, but the other US Consulates do not. So it’s very important to make sure you know what your specific Consulate requires AND that you check their page frequently as they may change the rules during the time you are waiting for your appointment.
The reason you have to submit all of the birth, marriage and death records is to prove you are descended from an Italian ancestor and the primary concern of the consulate is making sure you are accurately representing your family lineage. If your documents have errors in names, dates or places, the Consulate may not believe that they properly connect you back to your Italian immigrant ancestor. For example, if your ancestor’s Italian birth record gives his name as Giuseppe Rizzo, born on July 1, 1895, but his United States marriage record calls him Joe Russo and says he was born in 1896, the Consulate may not believe the two documents are for the same person. So errors on the documents should be corrected wherever possible, particularly errors in dates, places or the spelling of names. With that said, there are some things you don’t need to amend, like the Americanization of names (like Giuseppe to Joseph). Other discrepancies can range from minor to major making it a challenge to know exactly what to do. Excellent guidance can be found on the Dual US Italian Citizenship Discrepancies page. Warning: getting corrections made can be one of the most challenging parts of this process.
Once you have all of your documents corrected, everything except the naturalization papers will need to be translated into Italian. Some Consulates require you to use one of their recommended translators and some consulates require the translations to be notarized and apostilled, so make sure you have checked the information on your Consulate’s website for their requirements. If they don’t require the use of their translators, I recommend using Andrea from Last Fuel Station on Fiverr.com. His fees are affordable, he can usually work in tight time frames and he does a good job. You should always review the translations, word for word, and make sure there are no typos or errors. Also, when you first set up a Fiverr account, they will send you an email with a coupon for a discount on your first service.
Last, all of your documents, except the naturalization papers, will also need to be apostilled. The apostille is a special authentication that allows a document to be used internationally. It is usually provided by the Secretary of State in the State where the document was issued. For example, a New Jersey vital record would be apostilled by the New Jersey Secretary of State. This is usually the easiest part of the process. Do not pay a special service for this—go straight to the Secretary of State’s website and search for the directions. Usually you just fill out a form and send everything in with a check.
Once you have all of your documents, translations and apostilles, you are almost ready for your appointment! You will just need to complete the application forms (found on the citizenship page of the Consulate website) and get your money order for the application fee. Most consulates also require you to bring a copy of your US Passport, Driver’s License and a photocopy of a utility bill to further prove you live in their jurisdiction. Last, you will need to organize your documents. Because the apostilles are stapled to the front of each document, you can’t easily tell which document is which, so I recommend putting a sticky note with the name of the document on the front so they can be easily identified. Then, organize your documents by generation starting with the Italian immigrant ancestor’s birth, naturalization papers, marriage and death. Then do the same for your immigrant ancestor’s spouse, then their child, and so on down to yourself. No matter how you do it, the important thing is to be organized as the consular officers are busy and will get impatient if you are fumbling around with a pile of unorganized documents.
You will turn everything in during a 20-30 minute appointment with a Consular Officer that usually takes place at a bank teller type window. They may ask if you speak Italian but it is okay if you do not-they all speak fluent English. They will take your application forms and payment, review each document you provide and may ask you questions and/or give you instructions for additional items they need or things they want you to correct. They may give you a case number to reference if you have to send anything additional in. Once you get everything turned in, you will feel a huge wave of relief and then the wait begins for the notification congratulating you on your citizenship.
The Dual US Italian Citizenship Facebook group is an excellent resource for those who want to DIY and also for those who need/want help from service providers. There are over 24,000 people in the group and all of them are either thinking about the process, are in the middle of the process, or they have already completed the process and they are a veritable WEALTH of DIY information. There are also service providers that can help you collect all of your documents and guide you through the entire process and the Facebook group is an excellent source for recommendations AND warnings. Be sure to very carefully research the providers you are considering and ask for references. Please note that I no longer provide this service as I am focusing on regular genealogy research at this time.
If you think your only path to citizenship is through a female ancestor and the 1948 rule is getting in the way, you may still be able to achieve your goal. There are a number of attorneys in Italy that are challenging this rule in the Italian courts and they have won hundreds of cases already. Several of my clients have used Luigi Paiano and have been very pleased with his work. And it’s not as expensive as you might think it would be.
And last, if all of the waiting is too much to bear and you have the time, financial resources, and you are not afraid to navigate the web of Italian bureaucracy, you might consider applying in Italy. You still have to collect all the documents just as above and the entire process costs significantly more because most people use a provider to help them and it involves establishing residency by renting an apartment for a period of 3-6 months or longer. But the advantage is that the wait time is much less. Again, the Dual US Italian Citizenship page has recommendations for providers that help you apply in Italy. In fact, they have a whole page of their website devoted to this topic too!