You’ll hear it from anyone who has done it: gathering all of the appropriate documents can be a total pain in the ass. Some people hire private services or attorneys to do a lot of the legwork, but I chose to do it myself. One, I didn’t have the extra budget to hire someone and two, I’m incredibly stubborn and didn’t want to admit it was too much for me to do myself. I know quite a few people who have hired attorneys and had great experiences, though, and when you add up the price of the documents, apostilles and translations, sometimes its not such a bad deal.
My posts are specifically regarding attaining Italian-American dual citizenship by descent. The first step, of course, is to determine if you’re eligible or not. Generally, if your Italian ancestor (the Consulate websites only list going back to a great-grandparent; I’m not sure if you’d be eligible if your ancestor is more distant than that) gave birth to the next person in your Italian line before giving up their Italian citizenship (which they would have done if / when they “naturalized” to become an American citizen), their Italian citizenship passed on to their children and down through the Italian line to you.
The documents required may vary slightly by Consulate, so be sure you check and re-check the website for the Italian consulate that oversees the area you live in – you MUST go to the Consulate that oversees your official residence; you can’t choose which Consulate to apply to! Consulates can be found in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Fransisco. The smaller offices cannot process dual citizenship; it must be a General Consulate.
I swear the documents listed on the site changed at least twice while I was gathering them, so I took the “the-more-the-better” approach. The documents marked “Italian Line” are the ones that would determine my eligibility for citizenship; the ones marked “Non-Italian Line” were the spouses that shouldn’t affect my claim.
The documents I gathered to request Italian citizenship through my maternal great-grandfather were:
1) My great-grandfather’s birth certificate from Italy (which I had just happened to get while visiting his village last year) – Italian Line
2) A letter from the county of my great-grandmother’s birth stating that they did not require birth certificates before 1907, thus one was not on file for her. – Non-Italian Line
3) My great-grandparents’ marriage certificate. - Italian Line
4) My grandmother’s birth certificate. - Italian Line
5) My great-grandfather’s naturalization certificate. - Italian Line
6) My great-grandfather’s death certificate. - Italian Line
7) My great-grandmother’s death certificate. - Non-Italian Line
8) My grandfather’s “Certificate of No Record”, stating he does not have a birth certificate on file. - Non-Italian Line
9) My grandparents’ marriage certificate. - Italian Line
10) My mother’s birth certificate. - Italian Line
11) My grandmother’s death certificate. - Italian Line
12) My grandfather’s death certificate. - Non-Italian Line
13) My dad’s birth certificate. - Non-Italian Line
14) My parents’ marriage certificate. - Italian Line
15) My birth certificate.
All certificates had to be “official documents”, not copies, and in the “long form” (some death certificates give you the option of long or short form, stating cause of death or not). I paid around $20 for most of the documents and most of them could be collected from VitalCheck, an online service. For a few (like my great-grandmother’s letter -#2 and my grandparents’ & great-grandparents’ marriage certificates), I had to call the county clerk’s office and ask for instructions on requesting them).
Gathering the documents was only the first step, though.
Step 2 -
Every document except the naturalization certificate and my great-grandfather’s birth certificate needed an apostille. I had never heard of an apostille before this; it’s basically like an internationally-recognized notary stamp, but it comes as a separate document attached to the original. In order to get an apostille, you have to submit it to the Office of the Secretary of State for the state in which the document was issued. Each state has their own process, fees and requirements for the request, so be sure to look up each state specifically and follow their instructions exactly. It’s easy, it just takes a lot of attention to detail. I paid between $0 & $10 for each apostille (plus a self-addressed stamped envelope).
All certificates that were not in Italian (which meant all of them, except for my great-grandfather’s birth certificate) had to be translated into Italian. Every word on the document had to be translated, including the text on the bottom or back that said something like “This document is printed on watermarked paper”. It was also recommended by the Consulate that the translations be formatted as closely to the original as possible (which meant LOTS of time sitting in front of the computer). **The naturalization certificate did not have to be translated. Apostilles did not need to be translated. Please be sure to get a native Italian speaker or professional translator (each Consulate has a list available, too). Just like in English, there are certain ways to translate forms that make sense and others that don’t (for instance, in the reverse situation, if someone was translating a form into English and put “Boy or Girl” instead of “Male or Female” on a death certificate, it would make sense but it wouldn’t be correct). Translators usually charge by the page, anywhere from $20-$50 per hour.
I got all of my documents and apostilles fairly quickly; it was the naturalization document that kept me waiting. I had requested it from US Citizenship & Immigration Services after finding a copy of my great-grandfather’s request to naturalize in our family archives. The request listed the certificate number, which I then used to order a copy of the official document. To expedite the process as much as possible, I wrote “Dual Citz-Natz Certificate Only” on the application, which told the department they didn’t need to get permission from all of my great-grandfather’s descendants before sending it.
Note: Applicants for dual Italian citizenship are not required to provide certified copies of naturalization certificates obtained from USCIS. Rather, the applicant must present the photocopy of the naturalization certificate along with the USCIS Genealogy Program response letter and mailing envelope. This is what you will receive when you request an “official” copy. Don’t freak out (like I did), when a photocopy comes in the mail, and do remember to bring the envelope!
While I was waiting for the naturalization certificate to arrive, I made a list of all discrepancies of names and dates on the documents and sent it in an email to the consulate. Luckily, mine were minor and mostly on the Non-Italian Line, so the Consulate told me I didn’t need to have any of the documents officially changed (which would’ve been a whole other process!).
Finally, the naturalization document came in, my translations were done, I had filled out (and had my mother fill out) the declaration forms stating we had never given up Italian citizenship (those also have to be notarized by a US notary) and filled out the application. I got my money order for the appropriate amount (around $390) and was ready for my appointment!
I’ll take you step-by-step through my Consulate appointment next week!