One Picture Might Tell the Story

Back in April, during Crestleaf’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds, I posted the discovery of the naturalization papers of my grandmother’s brother, Peter Scerbak, in 1931 in Passaic County, New Jersey.

Petition of Peter Scerbak, 1931

The question in my mind was why? He was born in Passaic, New Jersey, although the family moved back to Slovakia about 1898. My grandmother was the oldest child in the family. She returned to Passaic in 1910, but Pete didn’t return for good until 1921.

One reader left a comment and suggested that this might be a good question for Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist. I thought that was a great idea and it might even be a good idea for a blog post, so I emailed Judy and explained that Peter Scerbak filed the papers, he named his four children, all born in Passaic and his wife, who was born in Slovakia. I sent her a link to the above image and file.

I further wondered if perhaps the law required, even as late as the 1930s, that the husband file citizenship papers or maybe it was just a quirk that he filed in his own name and not in the name of his wife, Mary.

Judy responded within the hour and stated that Peter clearly was petitioning for citizenship for himself and that he must have renounced his U.S. citizenship at some point. She suggested that I send for his full USCIS file, which I don’t yet have, but I mentioned that I have a photo of a young Peter in a military uniform from the World War I era. I have no idea who the young man next to him is.

Peter Scerbak, left

Perhaps his military service was the reason for renouncing his American citizenship? Judy agreed.

This might be the answer to this mystery. It appears that each soldier had to swear and Oath of Allegiance to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and its ruler, Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, followed in 1916 by Charles I of Austria.

Peter Scerbak’s original papers indicating his intention to become naturalized may include details about his military service. If he was indeed asked about prior military service, he was considered to have renounced, or maybe lost by default so to speak, his American citizenship.

It will be very interesting to see what information is included in his file.




One thought on “One Picture Might Tell the Story”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.