Update: The Road to Italian Citizenship

In early 2017, after a two-year wait, I had my appointment with the Italian Consulate. I was told that I didn’t have enough proof that my great-grandfather never became a citizen of the United States. I had the letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services indicating they had no records of his naturalization, and I had a Certificate of Non-Existence of Record from the National Archives. However, I was told, “Just because they can’t find a record for him doesn’t mean he didn’t file for naturalization. There were multiple ways one could apply for citizenship in those days — locally or federally. You need to check locally also.”

The consulate also said that the best evidence would be a 1915 NY State Census record for Luigi. In those days, the census recorded if you were naturalized or an alien. If I could find that record and show that it lists him as an alien I’d be all set. The problem is I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census. I found his wife, living as a boarder with another family, but not him.

So I did some searching. Turns out Luigi Gallo arrived at Ellis Island twice. First in 1909, which I knew, and then again in 1913, which I didn’t. Up until this point, I thought the man headed from Ellis Island to Poughkeepsie and never looked back. Turns out I was wrong.

Luigi, at some point between Feb 28, 1909 and March 17, 1913 left the US and went back to Italy. When he returned, he told the immigration officers not that he was headed back to Poughkeepsie, but that he was going to a cousin’s place in New Castle, PA. This is the first I’d ever heard mention of one of my ancestors in this line leaving Dutchess County, NY.

So I looked into New Castle, PA. Turns out that in the 1890’s an Italian immigrant started a fireworks company there. Then a few of his employees took off and started fireworks companies of their own. Why is this significant? Because my great-grandfather worked with dynamite in Poughkeepsie. In fact, one day in 1913, he went to check on a piece of dynamite that didn’t explode. Unfortunately, someone tried it again while he was approaching, and he was hurt. He eventually succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

So why was my great-grandfather going out to New Castle, PA? Was he getting more training? Did he want to start his own company in New York? That will take some more digging. But the important piece here is that perhaps I can’t find him on the 1915 NY State Census because he was working in Pennsylvania at that time.

So I needed to get other proof. I consulted some genealogists.

“Technically, the consulate should have approved your application,” I was told. “What he said about people getting naturalized locally? Doesn’t matter. Because the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 required that all naturalizations be on record with the federal government. So the fact that you had a document from the federal government saying they couldn’t find him should have been enough.”

So here’s my lesson to you dual citizenship seekers: Learn some of the laws that might affect your application. Had I known about the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906, I can assure you I would have asked the consulate about it.

“And another thing,” the genealogist said. “Before 1922, if he was naturalized and then got married, his wife would automatically become naturalized. If you had a census record showing his wife was listed as an alien, that, too, proves he wasn’t naturalized.”

So the genealogist gave me a list of things I should obtain to bolster my case. The only problem was that we were one week away from the end of the school year. And three days after that, I was leaving for a seven week trip to Europe. I had a wild idea that I’d get it all done before I left. But I didn’t do any of it.

Then I thought I’d do it when I got back. But I got back just a week before school began. And on the day I returned, I got engaged. And then we decided why not do all the big expensive things at once? Let’s look into buying a house. So no, I didn’t get to that genealogy stuff.

“I think I’m just going to hire the genealogist and have him do it,” I told Michael last week. He thought that a good idea. But then came hurricane Irma.

Irma brought high winds and plenty of rain to my part of the country. This led to 25% of the buildings at school being without power. Which resulted in a day off. So after some lesson planning and some lunch, I got down to business.

What’s next? Once I get all of these letters and records (at least two of them will take 60-90 days to arrive), I have to resubmit all my paperwork to the consulate. (Thankfully I can do that by mail. I don’t have to wait another 2 years for an in-person appointment.) If they accept my application, it will take another year for them to process it. At which time they’ll send me a letter indicating I’m a citizen of Italy, and then I’ll figure out how to get my Italian passport:)

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