Sunday, August 23, 2009

World War I and Natural Born Citizens

When the U.S. government instituted a draft in World War I, a lot of information was collected from prospective draftees, namely young men of draft age. From a genealogy standpoint, the draft cards are unusually handy. In addition to providing details of vital records, they also included information about occupation, specific addresses, and even things like height and hair color.

There were three different types of cards used during the draft, with slight variation in the questioning. One of the cards looked like this one:

This card belongs to Artie Lee Barnwell, who was a first cousin four times removed of mine. (I have images for closer relatives, but this is the largest and most clear one.) I draw your attention to Question #4:
4. Are you (1) a natural-born citizen, (2) a naturalized citizen, (3) an alien, (4) or have you declared your intention (specify which)?

Notice that there are only two categories of citizen: (1) natural-born, and (2) naturalized. That's it. No third category that amounted to 'citizen since birth but not the natural-born variety.' To buy the Birther theory of citizenship is to suggest that a lot of young American men had no applicable box to check on this form.

The interpretation of these categories is also straightforward, as it would have been to the people of the time. For example, my great-great grandfather Ingwer Dockweiler, who immigrated from Germany and subsequently went through the naturalization process, was a 'naturalized' citizen. His son, Fred, who was born in North Dakota, was a 'natural-born' citizen, simply by virtue of being born in North Dakota.

The other two types of draft cards used different language for this question, but serve to bolster this straightforward duality of citizenship. One type of card had five boxes that one could check, three under the heading of 'U.S. Citizen' and two under the heading of 'Alien.'

The three 'Citizen' box options were "Native born," "Naturalized," or "Citizen by father's Naturalization before registrant's majority." The two 'Alien' options were "Declarant" or "Non-Declarant."

The third card had these options:

Native of the United States
Naturalized Citizen
Declared Intention

So not only did the U.S. Government not have a third category for 'Born in the U.S. but not a natural-born citizen,' but it considered "Natural-born citizen" to be effectively synonymous with "Native born citizen" and with "Native of the United States."

Now I'd love to close out this post with an image or two of young men born in the U.S. to aliens stating on their forms that they were "Natural born citizens." Unfortunately, my own family immigrated long before the 20th century, and I only have images handy for my own family. However, I do have research access. So I'll end with a request.

If you had ancestors who immigrated around 1900 and had a son soon thereafter, a son who would've been draft age in 1917, let me know. I'll pull the draft cards for you, and illustrate that a boy born of aliens in the United States was a natural-born citizen.


  1. If it helps.....

    My Great-Uncle
    Joseph Vitale
    Born 4-Jul-1902 (at least that's the day he used; I believe it's accurate) In Newark NJ. He would have been living in Verona NJ when he registered for the draft.

    (His parent were Angelo & Columbia Vitale. Both born in Italy, emigrated to the US circa 1900. Married in Newark, NJ in 1901.)

  2. Was Barnwell born after his father Naturalized? If so, sure he was a NBC. If not, as was generally accepted during that time, he would have been an alien. My guess is that his father was naturalized, and subsequently his mother via his father was also naturalized prior to Artie's birth.

    Remember the thoughts of the time as reflected in Minor vs. Happersett - The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens. Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class there have been doubts, but never as to the first.

    There were doubts that those born on US Soil to foreign parents were even US Citizens at all - accordingly - as in the case cited above, you were either a 1) NBC, 2) naturalized, 3) alien, or 4) declared foreigner.

    Humm...yeah, I would say that decision corresponds quite nicely with the draft card you reference.