Before the First World War moving between countries could be a surprisingly casual affair. There were such things as passports, but they were not compulsory, and even for those people who held one, the surviving records are disappointingly sparse. We receive lots of enquiries from people whose ancestors migrated into or out of the United Kingdom, and we often have to disappoint them because there is no record of their arrival or departure.
Some people who came and settled here went to the trouble and expense of becoming naturalised, and we have some very good records for them. Unfortunately many others did not, because they had no good reason to do so, and there was no barrier to their staying and settling without being naturalised in this period. When the subject of nationality came up in the census, some people claimed they were naturalised, but we have no record that they were. The likely explanation is that many simply misunderstood the question, but there is no way of knowing for certain. Interestingly, in the 1911 census most seem to have told the truth, because this year there was an extra question; they were asked for the year in which they became naturalised. This made it clear that there must be some kind of official process, and a request for such specific information introduces the subtle suggestion that someone might actually check. Continue reading »