Finding Out You Lost Your Citizenship #events

Carl Kaplan

My great aunt was born in New York in 1897. She married a non-naturalized immigrant in 1919. The family story is that she found out she lost her citizenship when she went to vote in 1920 (her husband subsequently naturalized, including her and child, in 1922 before the Cable Act was approved). Is that how she would have learned of the loss of her citizenship?
Carl Kaplan

KAPLAN Minsk, Belarus
EDELSON, EDINBURG Kovno, Lithuania


Hello Carl,

I think this family story is plausible.  She was born a US citizen and would have been aware that the 1920 election was the first in which women would be allowed to vote in a Federal election.  If she tried to register to vote she would have been rejected as an alien and ineligible to vote.

I would probably be searching newspapers which should have carried stories of women in a similar situation.  The more evidence you have that women discovering their citizenship status was "a thing" ca. 1920, the more plausible the story becomes.

Marian Smith

Marilyn Newman

My cousin presented me with her mother’s Naturalization certificate. “How can this be”she exclaimed. My mother was born in Pennsylvania. Shocking, she married an alien in 1919. Sad at the time, but thankfully, smarter minds prevailed with the Cable Act of Sept. 1922 (never knew it had an actual name).
Marilyn Newman

Mel Comisarow

            My grandfather emigrated from Ukraine to Canada in 1912 and was naturalized as a Canadian citizen in 1920. When my father came to Canada in 1922, he assumed, that as a dependent of my father, he automatically became a Canadian citizen. When he registered for the Canadian military draft in 1939, he was informed that he was not a Canadian citizen, so he applied for Canadian citizenship and as a 17-year resident in good standing, he received Canadian citizenship in due course.

            For many years up to the 1980s, transborder movement between Canada and the US was trivially easy for Canadian and American citizens, with only a verbal declaration of citizenship being required for entry into the non-citizenship country. Over the years my parents made many trips to the US, and never had any problem with entry into the US or re-entry into Canada.

            In the 1970s my parents planned a trip to Israel and since passports were required for travel to Israel, each applied for a Canadian passport.  My mother was was then informed that although she was born in Winnipeg and never lived outside of Canada, under the citizenship laws at the time, she lost her Canadian citizenship in 1938 when she married my father, a Russian citizen. As a non-Canadian, if she ever left Canada her entry into Canada was problematic. The only way she could get her own Canadian passport would be to leave Canada, apply to become an immigrant and after immigrating to and residing in Canada for three years, she could apply for and subsequently, in due course, become a naturalized Canadian citizen. However, she could leave and quickly re-enter Canada as a “wife of” entry in my father's passport. So, as the wife of a Canadian citizen my parents made their trip to Israel and returned to Canada. 

            In the 1980s, there was a newspaper item that mentioned that there were a few thousand elderly Canadian women, who, although born in Canada, each lost their citizenship by marrying a foreigner.  The husbands had since died and so the women couldn’t be “wife-of” entries on their husbands’ passports. These women could not travel outside the country for fear of having their re-entry denied.

Mel Comisarow


Sherri Bobish


The same thing happened to my husband's ggm.  She was born in Manhattan, but in 1913 married a man who was not yet naturalized. 

Upon marriage she lost her U.S. citizenship, even though she was born in the U.S. and had never left the U.S.

These women had to go through a formal naturalization process to regain their U.S. citizenship.

I have her naturalization papers, and it is very strange to see nat papers for someone born in New York.

Women did not get the vote in the U.S. (on the national level) until 1920.


Sherri Bobish

Susan H. Sachs

Two interesting features of the law that took away the native born US woman's citizenship when she married an immigrant who had not yet been naturalized are:
1.  This law only went into effect in 1906.  If I'm not mistaken women who married immigrant men before then were not deprived of their own citizenship.  
2.  As you realize, the law only applied to women - native born US men were not deprived of their citizenship if they married immigrant women.
Thus the law, with one stroke, was both anti-immigrant and anti-feminist (though that term hadn't been invented yet.)
As for your question - how did the women know they were deprived of their citizenship - it did seem strange to me that when I saw my grandparents' marriage license, of 1911, stating my grandmother was born in 1892 in McKeesport, PA and that she was marrying my grandfather born in 1888 in Austria-Hungary - no mention is made of her loss of citizenship at that point.  As I understand, if she had lived long enough to vote (she passed away in the flu pandemic of 1918) she would have learned of it then as you point out - or if she had wanted to travel overseas before my grandfather was naturalized and had included her in his papers - and she needed a passport.  She would have learned that she couldn't have a U.S. passport.  
Susan H. Sachs

Kenneth Ryesky

My wife's grandmother had same problem; it came back to bite her in about 1950 when she sought to make Aliyah and learned that she had lost her citizenship and had trouble getting a US passport.
-- Ken Ryesky
Petach Tikva, ISRAEL

Ken Ryesky,  Petach Tikva, Israel     kenneth.ryesky@...