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|Acts of Parliament and Naturalisation - the 1800s|
During the nineteenth century the process of becoming British was simplified for migrants when the Home Secretary was given the power to grantnaturalisation. Previously, the process was lengthy and costly involving a private Act of Parliament and few people could afford this process.
Home Office records provide a fascinating insight into the decisions behind the applications and granting of British citizenship.
The Naturalisation Act (Naturalisation Act 1844) provided that every alien residing in Great Britain with intent to settle should present a memorial or document to the Secretary of State stating age, trade and duration of residence. After this would be issued a certificate granting all the rights of a natural-born subject with the exception being a member of the Privy Council or Parliament. The Act provided that women, but not men, could become naturalised through marriage to a natural-born or naturalised British Citizen. It also stipulated that applicants wishing to become naturalised citizens should state their intention to reside and settle in Great Britain.
Following an Act of 1 August 1847, regulations provided that a declaration should be made and signed by at least four householders, who should state their places of residence vouch for the respectability and loyalty of the applicant and verify the several particulars stated in the memorial. The householders, known as resident referees, were required to make their declaration before a magistrate. Resident referees were accepted only if they met the following criteria: they were natural-born British subjects; were not the agents or solicitors of the applicant; were able to testify to the facts of residence from personal knowledge and had known the applicant for at least five years.
The Naturalisation Act (Naturalisation Act 1870) introduced a qualification period, demanding that applicants should reside within the United Kingdom for at least five years before submitting an application, in addition to declaring their intention to reside permanently in the country. After 1870, records include the name and address of the person seeking naturalisation, names and addresses of any resident children and the addresses of any places occupied by him or her during the five-year qualification period.
After 1873, the practice of obtaining a Metropolitan Police report on the respectability of the applicant and the referees was established. Outside London, mayors, and chairmen of Quarter Sessions were asked to investigate the respectability of candidates and their referees.
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