My husband's great-grandparents came to the USA in 1898, and returned in 1904. While they were in the USA, they had two girls, one born in 1898, the other in 1900. On the 1911 Census (England), the girls were listed as British Subjects born in the US, like this:

1911 Census status

It's difficult to read, but I think it says "Brit. Sub by Parentage".

Would their parents have been required to register their births, or might there be any other paperwork re-asserting their status as British subjects? Would they have been required to renounce their American citizenship?

The older girl died in 1915 before reaching majority, and the younger, as far as I can tell, married another British Subject in 1919 or 1920.

(The parents of this family did not become naturalized citizens while they were in the US.)

4 Answers 4


The page linked to in the answer by user3310902 discusses a particular court case, and the status of children born abroad to British parents isn't discussed there.

However that page provided the crucial search term "British Nationality Law" which led to a helpful article at Wikipedia, and from there, to another Wikipedia article: History of British Nationality Law.

Some waypoints that pertain to this question are:

  • 1350 Status of Children Born Abroad Act 1350 covers the case of children born abroad of two English parents
  • 1772 The British Nationality Act 1772 extended natural-born status to children whose father alone was British
  • 1870 legislation was introduced which caused British women to lose their citizenship if they married a foreigner
  • 1914 British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 clarified and codified the means by which British Subject status was acquired, including means for some who had lost British subject status to reacquire it

I am grateful to user3310902 for pointing me in the right direction.

  • 1
    Minor point - the 1350 Act refers to English not British.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 9:41
  • Noted and edited.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 15:44

It seems that before 1914 there was no formal legal status of British nationality. The term British subject seems to have been quite elastic.

See http://www.ombudsman.org.uk/reports-and-consultations/reports/parliamentary/defending-the-indefensible/15


There are "Overseas" registrations held by the General Register Office for England & Wales. However, the GRO's site states in a Q&A:

Q. Are all overseas births, marriages and deaths, [registrations] involving British nationals held in the UK?

A. No. Registering with the British authorities is not compulsory. It is not a service which everyone takes up.

This ties in with my initial reaction that I'd looked for a number of vital events in the Overseas GRO pages and failed to find them.

  • Ditto (looked in GRO consular records but did not find them). The nearest consulate would have been in Boston (halfway across the state).
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 23:06

The parent, while filling in the 1911 census form, noted the children as British by Parentage, which is official enough to give statehood to the children. However, unless the parents were consulate officials, or part of the consulate or embassy staffs, the children, if born in the USA and a certificate of birth having been obtained, could actually claim US citizenship, as well, due to the differing statutes of the two nations. The USA recognizes all births within its borders to be US citizens, except to parents attached to consulates, which is different from the UK, where those born here are not British unless the parents are.

  • I think it's pretty safe to assume that neither parent ever worked as embassy staff in this particular case, but it's good to know. It's amusing to note that the children born in the USA returned to England and stayed there, and all the English-born children returned to the United States and stayed here.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 2:56
  • This is not a US Census form -- it is the 1911 Census (England).
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 18:31

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