Naturalization in the US was a two step process from 1790 through at least the mid 1900s (I don't know how it works now). The first step was filing a Declaration of Intention which could be done after living in the US for two years. Three years after filing the declaration you could file a Petition for Naturalization. You became a citizen when the petition was granted.

I have found both the Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization for three ancestors. Two of them waited significantly longer than three years to file their petition.

Why would Joseph, and especially Stephan, wait so long to file their petitions? Was this normal? Were the advantages to being naturalized not big enough to feel an urgency? Were there conditions or exceptions that could delay their ability to file the petition? I don't mean conditions such as being stranded on an island but perhaps requirements that needed to be met in addition to living in the US for those three years.

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    Both of the delayed petitions were filed in the later part of year before a presidential election, when the candidates would have just become known. Since these aliens needed to become citizens to register to vote, maybe an interesting candidate (or a keen worker for a candidate) was the final push they needed to get on with it.
    – Rob Hoare
    Jul 17 '13 at 2:50

There were also residency requirements (same state and county) that that also had to be met (exact time period applicable detailed on the petition form). A trip back to the old country could also reset the clock. Another consideration was having acceptable character witnesses.

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