Genealogy, Immigration, and Dual Citizenship

I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood. My grandparents were born in Italy, so my mother was a first generation American. We lived amongst the Italians in St. Paul, Minnesota and were only one-degree-of-separation related to almost everyone within our ten-block area.

Like many immigrants of that time, the Italian immigrants came for what-were-promised-to-be “good” jobs with railroads, mining companies, and other companies needing more manual laborers. Most still spoke their native Italian dialects until the day they passed away.

My parents always emphasized how hard immigrants worked to support their families to give their children a better life in America. These unskilled immigrants rarely learned English well enough to do anything other than back-breaking work like laying track to expand the railroads Westward or laboring in dark and dangerous coal mines. There was not an OSHA to protect them from hazards at work or any unemployment insurance or Social Security if they lost their jobs or suffered injuries or death at work.

After World War II, my parents were able to join the middle class in America. My mother went to Italy several times and kept in close contact with her family. I joined my mother on several of these trips to learn about my heritage and how I could gain Italian citizenship. Now that I am a dual citizen, I have been advising other Americans of Italian descent how to obtain their Italian citizenship through their ancestors. If you would like to learn more about obtaining dual citizenship in any country, I can help connect you to an immigration attorney in any country abroad.

Dual Citizenship

Most Americans are not aware that we can lawfully hold dual citizenship with almost any other country. It is usually the foreign country’s laws that determine whether someone can hold dual American citizenship.

Each country has its own laws about how it grants citizenship, but most require some connection to the country via an ancestor or birth in that country. Italian law provides a few ways to obtain citizenship, including through an Italian bloodline or jure sanguinis, regardless of residency. Italian law does not grant citizenship simply because one is born on Italian soil, as the U.S. does. The bloodline is what is important. So, many Italian Americans can easily prove a blood connection to an Italian ancestor only a few generations back.

If you are looking to obtain citizenship in Italy or another country, many federal agencies in the U.S. can provide the documents that the foreign country requires. For example, to prove Italian citizenship, you need to provide your ancestor’s U.S. naturalization record or that your ancestor did not ever become a U.S. citizen. Federal government agencies store information that you can locate on sites like However, you will need certified documents from the original source—the federal government.

Official Government Sources

The third-party genealogy sites are a good place to start researching whether you can prove a connection to a foreign country. Once you have an idea of the types of documents that exist, start trying to obtain them from official U.S. or state government sources. You will then likely need to obtain an apostille on each one so that the foreign government will recognize them as legitimate. Consider starting with the following searches:

Reviewing Old Records

If you are reviewing census records, be sure to understand the shorthand codes used by the census taker to record a resident’s immigration status. The initials “PA” usually meant Permanent Alien, called a Legal Permanent Resident today. This status is different from being a U.S. citizen.

Also note that many new immigrants either did not speak English well enough to understand the question about their immigration status or were afraid to say that they were not citizens. So many people said that they were U.S. citizens when they were not. The U.S. Census records are not completely accurate on this issue.

But, with enough cumulative census records, or other evidence showing U.S. citizenship or lack of it, you can likely prove either type of immigration status. This distinction is important for many Italian Americans seeking Italian dual citizenship and perhaps those seeking dual citizenship from other countries.

Finally, it is important to note that the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship is not the same today as it was one-hundred years ago. Then, an applicant needed to file a “Declaration of Intent” in advance of filing the actual naturalization application. At the point of filing the Declaration of Intent, the law did not yet consider the applicant to be a U.S. citizen. This is also important to some dual citizenship applications requiring that the ancestor NOT be a naturalized U.S. citizen before a certain date. Then, U.S. government did not hold centralized naturalization ceremonies and even county clerks and judges could declare someone a citizen.

Bottom Line

I always encourage anyone who is interested in obtaining dual citizenship based on their heritage, to explore their options with an immigration attorney from that country. And, if you would like to become a citizen of a country with which you have no affiliation, other than that you would love to live there one day, speak to an immigration attorney. Many countries allow you to obtain citizenship through investment, long-term residency, or employment.