Jump By Series ID:
Icon Immigration & Naturalization Records

Immigration & Naturalization Records

American Sources | Maryland Indexes | Naturalizations | Passenger Lists | Published Sources

American Sources Giving Clues to Overseas Origins

Land Grants. It was the custom in Maryland and perhaps elsewhere for settlers taking up a tract of land to give a name to the tract of land. Sometimes the name might be that of a place name in their European home, and this might provide a clue to the place of origin.

Church Records. Church records often give clues to the origins of the parishioners. In the eighteenth century Anglican churches occasionally gave the overseas place of birth of individuals, and German churches would often contain obituaries of older parishioners, many times telling where they were born and when they came to the New World. Quakers routinely recorded the certificates of transfer brought by members from their previous meeting. In Baltimore in the early 19th century the Roman Catholic church gave quite complete details of the origins of French emigres.

Indentured Servants and Convicts. In Maryland there exists a considerable body of data, only now being investigated as a source for identifying a large group of colonial immigrants - indentured servants and convicts. For a long time this group was overlooked by genealogists because no one realized the importance of these humble folk as potential ancestors. At least one historian stated categorically that modern Marylanders need not worry: these "undesirables" could not possibly have been ancestors of people living today. Nevertheless, recent research has begun to refute this view and has examined convicts and indentured servants as individuals. While some of these examples have been discussed from the standpoint of Maryland records, remember that other colonies and states will have many of the same types of records. See also the Early Settlers Index by Carson Gibb.

Provincial Court Land Records and Judgments. The Maryland State Archives contains two series of records known as the Provincial Court Land Records MSA S552 and the Judgment Records MSA S551. Contained in these records are a number of lists of convicts who were transported to Maryland. There is a complete name index to all names in the land records, and the transportees are designated as "conv."

County Court Proceedings. County court proceedings are filled with references to the activities, legal and otherwise, of early Marylanders, and since the clerks were anxious to identify individuals properly, servants were usually so designated. Servants appeared when as minors, their ages had to be judged, when they petitioned for their freedom, when they had been captured after running away, and when they were accused of bearing baseborn children.

County Land Records. There are indentures of servants recorded in the Baltimore County land records, and the published abstracts of Dorchester and Talbot County land records contain similar indentures. The court and land records of Queen Anne's County contain many references to convicts. These have been abstracted by Robert A. Oszakiewski and published in aa article in the Maryland Genealogical Society Bulletin.

Newspaper Notices. Newspapers contained many advertisements for runaway servants, often giving a physical description, age, and place of origin. Cox has abstracted many (but not all) advertisements for runaway servants in the Maryland Gazette, but a 1990 book, The Maryland Gazette, 1727-1761 by Karen Mauer Green is the best source for Maryland runaway servants for that period published to date. Kenneth Scott and Robert K. Headley in abstracting records of Pennsylvania and Virginia newspapers (respectively), have included many references to Maryland runaways. Newspapers also contain notices of arrivals of ships carrying redemptioners or convicts. These can be compared with lists of ships published in Coldham, to give some idea of the possible destination of the convicts contained in Coldham's work.

Convict Lists. The Maryland State Archives contains two volumes with names of convicts: The Anne Arundel Convict Record, 1771-1775 MSA C57 and MSA CM952 (microfilm), and the Baltimore County Convict Record, 1770-1783 MSA C309 and MSA CM154 (microfilm) have been transcribed and published as part of Peter Wilson Coldham's The King's Passengers to Maryland and Virginia (Westminster: Family Line Publications). There is also a Talbot County Court Convict Record, 1727-1733 MSA C1855.

Merchants' Records. Merchants engaged in shipping servants to the colonies often kept lists of sales of convicts. The Cheston-Galloway Papers, at the Maryland Historical Society, contain many references to the sales of indentured servants and convicts and have been described in a paper by Robert Oszakiewski.

Early Settlers of Maryland. See also the Early Settlers Index by Carson Gibb for names of settlers, both free and indentured, culled from land and patent records. Includes the earlier lists from Gust Skordas' book Early Settlers of Maryland.

Maryland Indexes

      (Naturalizations, Provincial, Index), 1637-1776. Index 41. MSA S1414. See also Jeffrey and Florence Wyand, Colonial Maryland Naturalizations.

      (Naturalizations, Index), 1777-1917. Index 42. MSA S1415. Indexes General Courts of the Eastern and Western Shores, 1781-1805, and some county courts. See Passenger and Immigration Lists Index for citations to printed works on immigration (most not available at the Archives).

      (Naturalizations, BA and BC, Index), 1796-1933. Index 43. MSA S1416. Indexes all courts in Baltimore County before 1851 and Baltimore City. Please include all information on the card on your request slip. See also Michael H. Tepper, Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Baltimore, 1820-1834.

      (Naturalizations, BA, Index), 1852-1918. Index 44. MSA S1417. See also Indexes 42 and 43.

      (Naturalizations, Federal, Index), 1797-1906, 1925-1951 and naturalizations of soldiers, 1918-1923. Index 142. MSA S1463. For 1797-1906, the index card is the only record. After 1906, the records are at the Federal Records Center in Philadelphia.


During the colonial period there were very few naturalizations, except for settlers from the continent of Europe. English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish settlers were all considered merely to have moved from one part of the empire to another. Naturalization requirements in English Law (before 1776) required the alien to be a Protestant, to have lived in the colony for seven years, and to take an Oath of Allegiance to the King. Maryland changed the law in 1779. The revised law allowed anyone professing a belief in the Christian religion to become a naturalized citizen. Obviously no Oath of Allegiance to the King was required. The text of the 1779 law was published in English, French and German in the  Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) April 4, 1793. [1793 Naturalization Law SPECIAL COLLECTIONS MSA SC 2311.]  Naturalization records in Maryland for the colonial period have been published by Jeffrey A. and Florence Wyand (Colonial Maryland Naturalizations, REF 425 Wyand) and for the period 1784 through 1854 by Robert Oszakiewski (Maryland Naturalization Abstracts, Vol. 1, 1/58/5/68, 425 Oszakiewski and Maryland Naturalization Abstracts, Vol. 2, REF, 425 Oszakiewski). Please search our library catalog for these and other books dealing with the naturalization process.

After the revolution, naturalizations could take place in any U. S. District Court or any court of record in the individual states. All proceedings were required to be recorded. Children under 16 acquired citizenship through the naturalization of their parents. Between 1855 and the Cable Act of 1922, a woman automatically became a citizen by either marrying a citizen or by the naturalization of her husband.

Federal Law requires that the would be alien file a written Declaration of Intention. Naturalization could occur any time after a 5-7 year residence in the country, and a 1 year residence in the jurisdiction. Final citizenship papers might not be filed in the same Court of Record in which the Declaration of Intention was filed. Naturalizations might also be recorded for Minors who entered the country before age 21, or for persons who gained US Citizenship after serving in the military. In addition to the two basic kinds of naturalization documents, researchers may want to consult the Guide to Government Records for other types of Naturalization records such as Applications, Certificates, Oaths and Petitions. See also Maryland Indexes available in the Search Room.

As a result of Congressional Legislation in 1812 all British aliens had to register their residence. These have been compiled and published in a book by Kenneth Scott. Also, in 1812 Maryland naturalized all those resident in the state since 1789.

Agencies that issued naturalization records include the: Governor and Council, the General Assembly (until the Revolution), Federal Courts, County Courts, County Circuit Courts, the General Court of Eastern/Western Shores, and in Baltimore City, the: City Court, Criminal Court, the Superior Court, and the Court of Common Pleas.

Types of Naturalization Records

  • Declarations of Intention were used by would-be citizens to renounce allegiance to foreign governments and to declare the intention of becoming a United States citizen. They usually preceded other documents by at least two years, and may not have been required if a citizen had received an honorable discharge from the military or entered the country as a minor.
  • Naturalization Petitions were used to make formal application for citizenship by those who had declared their intention of becoming a citizen, and had met the residency requirements. After 1930 many petitions contained a photograph of the applicant.
  • Naturalization Depositions were formal statements made by other persons in support of the applicant's petition. They include a statement of the applicant's residence and an appraisal of his or her character.
  • Records of Naturalization and Oaths of Allegiance document the granting of citizenship. These records were usually kept in chronological arrangement in bound volumes. Later records were in the form of certificates.
    • Examples of Naturalization Records:
                  BALTIMORE CITY SUPERIOR COURT (Naturalization Record) #6 1852-1897 MSA C 231-1 MdHR 18,128.
                  BALTIMORE CITY COURT (Naturalization of Minors) #1 MSA C 273-1 MdHR 18,112
  • Homestead Claims and Applications for Passports are usually in the National Archives.
  • The 1870 Census indicated if any males over 21 were citizens. If an immigrant is reported as a citizen there must have been a naturalization somewhere.

Passenger Lists

Very few passenger lists for Maryland in the colonial period exist, but between 1634 and 1680 persons arriving in Maryland could be identified by their claims for land. With the abolition of the head right system in 1680, newcomers to Maryland were no longer automatically entitled to land for immigrating themselves, transporting others, or for completion of service. It was almost an article of faith that colonial passenger lists for the 18th century were practically non-existent for colonial Maryland.

That picture is changing, thanks to the work begun by P. William Filby, former Librarian of the Maryland Historical Society. His multi-volume Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, published by Gale Research, originally appeared in three volumes c. 1980, and annual supplements from 1982 to the current year have brought the number of names found in published passenger and immigration lists to several hundred thousand

In addition to the multi-volume Passenger and Immigration List Index project, Mr. Filby also compiled a Bibliography of Published Passenger Lists.

Most passengers lists for Maryland can be found at either the Maryland Historical Society or National Archives.

Published Sources

One category of record that should not be overlooked are the British genealogies that mention relatives who have gone to the New World. In the 16th and 17th centuries, heralds from the College of Arms would visit the various counties and record the pedigrees of families who aspired to armigerous status. Occasionally there would be references to younger sons who had migrated.

In the 18th and 19th centuries ambitious compilers of county histories would include pedigrees of the principal families of the county. Again, there would be the occasional reference to a relative who had gone to America, or perhaps even to a specified destination.

Finally, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the various volumes of pedigrees of landed gentry, peerage, and baronetcies, published by the Burkes would contain many references to American settlers.

Two of the most prolific researchers in this field today are Peter Wilson Coldham and David Dobson. Coldham has published numerous books and articles on the references to American settlers found in English records, and Dobson has published numerous works on references to American settlers found in Scottish records.

Coldham's book English Adventurers and Emigrants, 1661-1733 contains items found in examinations in equity and criminal cases.

Dobson and Coldham are following the trail blazed by John C. Hotten, whose Original Lists of Persons of Quality, Emigrants, Religious Exiles, Political Rebels . . . and Others Who Went From Great Britain to the American Plantations, London; 1874, has been republished by the Genealogical Publishing Company.

Henry F. Waters, a New England antiquary, sailed for England in May 1883 and researched records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury found at that time in Somerset House, London. In the space of a year he found over six hundred wills relating to American families. Many of his findings were published in the New England Hist. and Genealogical Register, and later in book form, as Genealogical Gleanings in England, published by the Genealogical Publishing Co.

In 1932 and 1933 George Sherwood published two volumes of notes on early immigrants who were not in the Hotten List.

Between 1903 and 1929 Lothrop Withington published abstracts of 17th and 18th century wills and administrations pertaining to Virginia and Virginians in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. These were later published in book form, Virginia Gleanings in England, published by the Genealogical Publishing Co.

The Virginia Colonial Records Project is an attempt to locate all manuscript material in England relating to the colony of Virginia, and to procure microfilm copies of that material, and if microfilm is not available, by some other photographic process. This project was described by Edward M. Riley in an article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly of June 1963.

For German immigrants, Don Yoder and Annette Burgert are doing important work in tracing the origins of German settlers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Return to the Reference & Research page.

This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!

350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, MD 21401 | MD toll free (800) 235-4045 or (410) 260-6400
Fax: (410) 974-2525 | Email: msa.helpdesk@maryland.gov | Directions & Hours

Guide to Government Records Copyright © 2015 Maryland State Archives