Many United States citizens with Canadian ancestry are very fortunate to have the opportunity—and attendant privileges—of obtaining Canadian dual citizenship without renouncing their rights as American citizens.
For you who are Americans, Maclean’s magazine offers 99 light-hearted reasons why it’s better to be a Canadian, touching on issues from living longer, being better educated, fitter, and funnier to consuming less alcohol and even having more sex.
On a more serious note, Canada’s corporate taxes are low, its homicide and suicide rates are low, mass shootings are rare, and Canadians are famous for being a kind, courteous, and respectful lot.
Legal Aspects of Canadian Dual Citizenship Applications
Legacy Tree Genealogists is expert in locating the needed records of ancestors. Still, you will probably also need to work with an immigration attorney or consult with your consulate to complete the official documents required for your citizenship application. (Surprisingly, in the U.S., each consulate may have slightly different requirements for the applications they process.)
For many, one key question related to dual citizenship is whether they would be required to renounce their native citizenship if they opted to become a citizen of another country. The United States “does not impede its citizens’ acquisition of foreign citizenship whether by birth, descent, naturalization or other form of acquisition.” So, as long as the second nation does not require one to renounce U.S. citizenship, applying for citizenship in another country would not require renouncement. Happily, according to the Government of Canada’s Citizenship Help Centre, Canadian law allows individuals to be both citizens of Canada and another country.
It’s that willingness on the part of both nations that opens the door for dual citizenship for American and Canadian citizens.
I’ve Got All the Facts and Just Need the Documentation for Canadian Dual Citizenship
I’m very fortunate to have Canadian ancestors on both my maternal and paternal sides. My maternal grandfather, Eric Forwood, was my most recent immigrant from Canada. A few years after World War I, Eric and his family moved south across the border from British Columbia into Montana. I remember Grandpa Forwood’s birthdate, where he was born, and—after meandering through the breathtaking Canadian Rockies—we’ve even walked the streets together in the beautiful Okanagan Valley where he grew up. I have unofficial copies of most of the records I would need to apply for Canadian citizenship. But, even as a professional genealogist, obtaining all of the official paperwork required for a citizenship application—typically certified birth, marriage, and death records for each generation and possibly naturalization records for the immigrant ancestor from several different provinces and states—seems daunting.
If you prefer to gather the needed paperwork independently, we’ve shared five tips for success below.
If you’d like assistance with this potentially daunting task, Legacy Tree Genealogists can be very helpful, even for those who have all the facts at their fingertips. Wading through the various requirements for obtaining civil registration and vital records from multiple counties, provinces, and states can be time-consuming for the novice. While it usually takes months to get the needed certified birth, marriage, and death records, we recently worked with one client who wanted to expedite the process of ordering records and obtained all of the needed certificates from Canada and several U.S. states in a couple of weeks.
So Close. I’m Only Missing One Record!
Few things are more frustrating than knowing your ancestor was a Canadian citizen but not having the essential paperwork to prove it. Key records, especially births and baptisms, often still exist but are very difficult to locate. That’s where the experienced professionals at Legacy Tree Genealogists excel. We’re terrific at finding that proverbial needle in the haystack regarding genealogical records.
A recent client had ample evidence that her grandmother had been born in Canada but had been unable to locate her birth or baptism record. Accomplishing that proved tricky for us as well. The client’s goal was to find a birth or baptism record for her ancestor Mae Gorman (also known as Mary), who was born in Canada in about 1876 or 1877. She had ample evidence that Mae had been born in Canada but was missing that one magical record.
Finding it proved challenging for us as well. The Social Security Death Index indicated that Mae had been born in Ottawa, “California,” on 8 June 1877. Knowing she had been born in Canada, we assumed Mae had probably been born in or near Ottawa, Ontario. Ontario began requiring civil registration in 1869, but it took a few years before all records were regularly kept, and Mae’s birth did not appear to have been registered in Ontario. We dredged up Mae’s naturalization records and those for her father, but they didn’t provide any more clues.
Her father’s declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen—a document usually filed several years before the final papers were filed—led us to the neighboring county of Chisago, where an older brother appeared with Mae’s family on the 1895 state census. James was one year older than Mae and had also been born in Canada, so this doubled our odds of figuring out where in Canada Mae had been born and where we should look for her baptism record. An earlier census record suggested Mae and James were older than they appeared in later records and that Mae had probably been born in 1874 or 1875. James died in Seattle. His death certificate confirmed his mother’s maiden name, and his Social Security Death Index listing provided the invaluable clue that James had been born in Chelsea, Ontario.
Chelsea, Ontario, is a lovely little town in Bruce County—about 350 miles east of Ottawa. But Chelsea, Quebec, is just six miles north of Ottawa in Quebec’s national capital region. Unlike Ontario, the province of Quebec relied more heavily on church records until the late 1920s.4 With that clue, we were off and running. James’s baptism appeared in records for the parish of Old Chelsea, Quebec, in 1873, but Mae’s record still did not appear in the index. Finally, a page-by-page search yielded the record we sought of Mae’s baptism in 1875. The image was faint on Ancestry, which explains why Mary Gorman’s name had not made it into the indexes correctly. We located a beautiful copy of the record on FamilySearch and provided our client with the critical missing link for her Canadian citizenship by descent application.
Prefer to Do It Yourself?
5 Tips for Success in Applying for Canadian Dual Citizenship by Descent
Based on our experience with dual citizenship applications, here are 5 tips for those who prefer to gather the needed paperwork.
- Stay organized. Since a lot of paperwork is involved, staying organized as you begin gathering that information will keep you on task and lend to your success. Here’s a link to a research log created by the New England Historic Genealogical Society you can use or modify to help you keep track of what you’ve done or where you’ve searched. You can also create and change a customized log in a word processor or spreadsheet or simply use paper and pencil to track your research and the records you’ve ordered. However you opt to do it, plan to stay organized and follow up with each record or task.
- Set realistic expectations—plan to surf websites and sort through various options for the type of certificates you’ll need. Websites for provinces, counties, and states often have different pathways and processes for obtaining the necessary records. Look for terms such as certified or long form (in Canada) to obtain records that meet the high expectations for citizenship applications. It often takes six to eight weeks or more for government agencies to respond and mail certificates. Many jurisdictions require applicants to submit evidence of their relationship to the individual whose record you are requesting.
- If, at first, you don’t succeed, DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t panic if you run into long delays or roadblocks. Your first attempts to obtain records may be rejected because your application wasn’t complete or you used the wrong form. Likewise, records for your ancestors may not be readily available online. As in the case of Mae Gorman, sometimes records for other siblings can provide the clues you need to locate your ancestor in Canada. If you keep plodding along, ultimately, you’ll cross the finish line.
- Order the records you need:
- Start with the FamilySearch United States Vital Records Wiki to order U.S. vital records. In the United States, you will usually have the option to apply with the state or with the town or county that issued the record. Obtaining records from counties or towns is often quicker and less expensive. Likewise, they may be more amenable to responding to phone calls and emails with questions about your application.
- For Canadian civil registration records, order from the province. FamilySearch also has a Canadian Vital Records Wiki that includes links to wiki pages for each province. As with the U.S. states, ordering records in each province is different. Don’t be overwhelmed by bureaucracy; just zero in on the necessary forms and processes.
- Turn to offline, local sources for help. If you have trouble finding records for your ancestors, provincial archives and genealogical societies can often provide clues. And local historical societies can be invaluable. My father’s ancestors were from a rural community south of Ottawa, and the Osgoode Township Museum had a valuable collection of resources and tools that helped identify my ancestors there and in nearby Russell, Ontario. They, like many other local societies, also offer research assistance for a very reasonable rate.
If you’d like to work with Legacy Tree Genealogists to obtain your Canadian Dual Citizenship, please reach out any time!