Four years ago when I first took an interest in genealogy, I realized there were a multitude of online databases laden with documents, images and other records I could use to research my family’s ancestors. I was astonished when I came across this index card for a “William Donar” related to a naturalization that occurred in the Superior Court of New York County, New York:
Really? There was a Naturalization record in the National Archives on an ancestor of MINE?!
A baby genealogist at the time, I was all atwitter thinking I’d hit the mother lode since it had my great-grandfather’s name on it. There it was–it must be official! It didn’t take me long though, (a matter of seconds), to realize that my find was close to meaningless. It wasn’t the actual Naturalization record at all–it was merely an image of an index card containing my great-grandfather’s name for a person who’d become naturalized. Why, I couldn’t even be sure that this William Donar was even my own great-grand-daddy.
Disappointed, and not experienced enough to know how to pursue it further, I set that little roadblock aside and got distracted by other (easier to research) family records which were so plentiful in those early months as a budding genealogist. Oh, I made attempts to pursue Great-Grandpa Donar’s naturalization–but not very many and not very intently. Ever since then though, finding this ancestor’s naturalization records has been on my “bugs me” list as a goal to ultimately achieve.
Today, for some reason, I decided to try again.
I picked up the phone, called NARA’s New York office, and was lucky enough to talk to Mr. Kevin Reilly (no relation, darn it, to my great-great-grandmother Mary Reilly, who, like William Donar himself, also hails from the Emerald Isle and arrived in this country around the time of the Great Famine). The luck of the Donars, Reilly’s, and perhaps a few leprechauns was with me today, however.
With a little pleading to my new best friend, Kevin was able to walk me through every click of my keyboard to enable three separate documents within Ancestry.com’s massive database to materialize on my screen. Among them were these:
A tri-fold folder dated October 23, 1852, containing William Donar’s two Naturalization papers…
…and the Oath of Allegiance signed by my great-grandfather, William Donar, on July 2, 1849 when he was 23 years old.
Though faded and scratched, this razor thin piece of microfilm–one among billions just like it stored in repositories around the globe–reveals an image of the original paper document signed in 1849 which, itself appears, to have been folded multiple times over during its lifetime.
Finally: proof positive that my great-grandfather, a tailor by trade who left Ireland during the Great Potato Famine and went on to serve in the American Civil War, did indeed intend to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, as evidenced by his signature on this Oath of Allegiance to his newly adopted country.
And what did he promise by signing that oath? Just this:
I, William Donar, do declare by this oath, that it is bonafide my intention to become a Citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any Foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom I am a subject.
Sworn this 2nd day of July 1849.
His file also includes the final document on his road to naturalization: an affidavit signed by witness Mary Ann Kingston (William’s friend? cousin? neighbor? love?) and signed by William himself, three years later on October 23, 1852, the day he became a U.S. citizen:
Final Paper: October 23, 1852
In her affidavit, Miss Kingston, who resides at 27 Washington St., New York City, swears that she was “well acquainted” with the applicant, William Donar, and specifically that he:
“has resided within the United States, for the continued term of five years at least next preceding the prevent time, and within the state of New York, 0ne year at least immediately preceding this application; and that during that time he has behaved as a man of good moral character, attached to the principle of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.”
Don’t you just love that wording? There’s something very comforting to see in writing with my own eyes that a contemporary of my great-grandfather–someone who actually knew him–swore to the U.S. government in a legal document that he was, indeed, a “good” man. Who else could tell me that?
And beneath Miss Kingston’s affidavit is William’s own declaration where he repeats the promise he’d made three years earlier: a pledge to renounce allegiance to all other governments as he takes on the mantle of U.S. citizenship.
So finally, after investing just an hour of time and the cost of a phone call, I’ve found something I’ve been seeking for the past four years: proof of my great-grandfather’s naturalization…and in doing so, I am now able to strike it off my ever evolving genealogy “to do” list. How can you put a price on that?
Welcome to America, Great-Grandpa Donar!
Now–what else is on that “bugs me” list that I can start focusing on?
Copyright © 2013 Patricia Desmond Biallas