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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Greek, part law French, even part Anglo-Saxon. And all confusing.

The Legal Genealogist hates to admit it but…

Sometimes things other than genealogy have to be dealt with in life.

I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine that anything should take precedence but… there are these minor little matters like deadlines for work projects that occasionally interfere with what we want to do, and right now I’m smack dab up against one of those deadlines.

So since time is in short supply for the blog, we’ll do a quick run back into the language of the law with more alphabet soup.

2019 letter E

And today’s word is expatriation.1

It’s defined as “the voluntary act of abandoning one’s country, and becoming the citizen or subject of another.”2

Kind of like maybe what you’d expect to happen when you rebel against a king, win your freedom in a revolution and set up your own country, right? You’d no longer be, say, a British subject but, now, an American citizen.

Now it may surprise you that all these expatriates who were our Founding Fathers didn’t much believe in expatriation from American citizenship. As late as 1830, the U.S. Supreme Court took the position that “no persons can by any act of their own, without the consent of the government, put off their allegiance and become aliens.”3 There was no provision in American law for losing U.S. citizenship until the Civil War, when the Enrollment Act of 1865 provided that naturalized Americans could lose their citizenship if they evaded the draft or deserted from military service.4

By 1868, the shoe was on the other foot — the United States wanted to protect its naturalized citizens from being scarfed up by their home countries for military service if they went back for visits — so Congress passed a law touting the “natural and inherent right of all people” to expatriate themselves.5 Meaning all those folks who had expatriated themselves from their native countries and become Americans.

But of course, sauces for geese and for ganders and all that… by the early 20th century all kinds of Americans were losing their citizenship by voluntary acts. Even native-born American women could lose their citizenship if they married men who weren’t citizens.6 American men could lose their citizenship if they served in the armed forces of a foreign nation like Canada or England (thereby taking an “oath of allegiance to any foreign state”) — as many men did before the United States entered the fray in World War I. And some folks who’d naturalized found themselves expatriated simply by living overseas for too long.7

Today, the law says American citizens can expatriate themselves by naturalizing as a citizen of another country, serving as an officer in a foreign military service or as an official of a foreign government, or renouncing citizenship, or committing treason or trying to overthrow the government.8

And where there is expatriation, there will also be repatriation.

And that of course means records. Just for giggles, go over to, drop down the Search menu, choose Catalog, click on the option to Search by Keywords, and enter the word repatriation.

The first result, “Applications of repatriation, 1936-1956,” from the Superior Court of Cochise County, Arizona, will take you to some wonderful records of American-born women getting their citizenship back under the law by taking an oath of allegiance after a divorce from or the death of their foreign-born husbands.9

Further down on the first page, “Repatriation of soldiers : act of May 9, 1918, 1919-1941,” from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts — equally wonderful records of soldiers who fought in World War I, mostly for Canada, who wanted to regain their U.S. citizenship after the war.10

Losing citizenship was expatriation. And genealogists can have some fun chasing the records that resulted.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: E is really for…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Feb 2019 ( : accessed (date)).


  1. Yeah, yeah, I know I already used the letter E this year, but that was for educational opportunities in genealogy, not legal lingo, so it’s still fair game to use it again. Besides, I like this E word, so there.
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 460, “expatriation.”
  3. Shanks v. DuPont, 28 U.S. 242, 246 (1830).
  4. § 21, Enrollment Act of March 3, 1865, 13 Stat. 487, 490.
  5. “An Act concerning the Rights of American Citizens in foreign States,” 15 Stat. 223 (27 July 1868).
  6. §3, “An Act In reference to the expatriation of citizens and their protection abroad,” 34 Stat. 1228 (2 March 1907).
  7. Ibid., §2.
  8. 8 U.S.C. §1481.
  9. Cochise County, Arizona, Superior Court, “Applications of repatriation, 1936-1956,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 Feb 2019).
  10. U.S. District Court, D. Mass. “Repatriation of soldiers : act of May 9, 1918, 1919-1941,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 Feb 2019).
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