Category Archives: Naturalization Records

Uncle Peter, Born in Passaic and Naturalized in Passaic, But Why?

Peter Scerbak was my Nana’s brother. I knew him slightly, as he occasionally came by our house to visit. I have a handful of photos of him, most of which were taken before I was born.

Nana with my infant father and brother Peter

Here is one more of Pete, as he was called:

Nana, Dad and Pete

From their clothing, it looks like these pictures were taken on the same day. My dad was born in February 1926, so the pictures were probably taken that summer. I do recognize our front yard on Summer Street in Passaic as the location.

Pete was born on 25 December 1896 in Passaic, so he was a citizen by birth. However, Pete’s wife, Maria Sedlak, was born in Europe in the village of Udol and they married there.

Passaic County, New Jersey is one of the few county court websites that I’ve ever come across that has digitized naturalization records which are both free to access and download.

I decided to poke around the website, searching various Slovak names that I knew were related to the Scerbak family. I was really surprised when this appeared:

As far as I was aware, there was only one Peter Scerbak in Passaic and that was Nana’s brother.

There is a bit of a back story here, but I was still puzzled. My grandmother, Pete and an infant baby brother who died at the age of 8 months were all born in Passaic. As I mentioned, Pete (three years younger than Nana) was born in 1896.

About 1897 or 1898, the family moved back to Slovakia. I knew that many years ago. However, that didn’t explain the naturalization petition under Pete’s name. Nana was recognized as a U.S. citizen when she returned to America in 1910.

Pete emigrated in the 1920s soon after he and Mary married. Their four children were all born in Passaic.

Pete’s petition packet consists of only four pages:

Reading through the pages, there was no question that this was “my” Pete Scerbak and it clearly states that he was born in Passaic.

There is no explanation as to why he was applying for citizenship, but he had apparently lost citizen status at some point before he returned to Passaic.

The answer can be found in a photo that my grandmother received in the mail, most likely along with a letter from her father or perhaps from Pete himself:

Peter Scerbak, on the left

Remember, Pete was born in 1896. When World War I erupted in 1914, he was the perfect age to be drafted and he was. Pete served in the army, but not in the U.S. army. He served in the army of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which was the enemy in the eyes of the U.S.

That’s why he lost his American citizenship. From what I have read, young men in the peasant villages weren’t really given any choice about being conscripted into the armed forces and I have no idea how long Pete was in the army or whether he took part in any battles.

Many researchers are under the impression that, once a family emigrated, they never again saw their homeland and that is true in many instances.

However, by the turn of the 20th century, many emigrants remained in the U.S. for a while, returned home to Europe and came back to America once again.

In fact, the residents of Udol made multiple trips across the ocean for decades, spending part of their lives in the village and sometimes years in Passaic and the surrounding towns.

If you discover a family member who was born in the United States, but became a naturalized citizen, ask yourself why that happened. If the ancestor is a male, did they serve in the military in an action against the United States? You’ll have your answer.


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.




New GeneaGem: U.S. Petitions for Naturalization Index 1791-1906

FamilySearch has done it again! I love looking through their collections. Do you have a New England ancestor who acquired citizenship somewhere in the six state area in 1906 or earlier? Then this collection – United States, New England Petitions for Naturalization (1791-1906) is for you. It is searchable by name.

Always on the hunt for more Carlisle family information, I entered just the surname in the search box. Only eighteen hits came up, which surprised me since that is not a particularly unusual surname and this database covers all of New England.

Five possibilities caught my eye: Abraham, Charles and Robert Carlisle and John and William Carlile, all born in Canada and naturalized in Maine. A look at the index card showed papers filed in Washington County, Maine for Abraham and Robert, Waldo County for John and William and Aroostook County for Charles. Washington County is my main area of interest, but Charles in Aroostook County is likely related because his record says he was born in Sussex, New Brunswick, the exact village where my Carlisles lived for many years.

This is just an index to the petitions. Next, I checked Maine, Washington County for naturalization records and found a link to more digitized records. There I found the record for Abraham Carlisle, who is a nephew of my two Carlisle 3x great grandmothers, Abigail and Catherine Carlisle.

AbrahamCarlisleNaturalization1847Image832 AbrahamCarlisleNaturalization1847Image833
Two Page Petition of Abraham Carlisle, 1847

Although the petition is handwritten, it is very readable so I won’t include a transcription. From it, I’ve gleaned some good information about the time the Carlisles came into Maine from New Brunswick, Canada. The family patriarch, Robert Carlisle, fought in the Royal Fencible Americans, based in Nova Scotia, during the Revolution. No Carlisles are in Washington County, Maine in 1820, but they are there in 1830. Robert died in 1834 in Charlotte, Maine and his widow returned to Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, likely to live with relatives.

Abraham states in his petition that he was born in New Brunswick on 3 January 1814, so I now have his exact date of birth. He further states that he first lived in Baring, Maine (a town just north of Charlotte) for five years from the fall of 1822 and then removed to Charlotte, where he has since lived.

Abraham was only eight years old when he moved to Maine, so he was likely part of a family migration. I also didn’t know that the Carlisles had first lived in Baring because that happened in between censuses.

This search took me about five minutes and I know a bit more about the Carlisle family than I did before. It was well worth five minutes. Now, I need to go back to that index and look up the other Carlisle men!