I believe I’ve mentioned it here before, but a couple of years ago during my genealogy research I discovered that my brothers and I were born dual U.S.-German citizens. And for more than two years, I’ve been cutting through bureaucratic red tape trying to get a German certificate of citizenship to prove it.
Now let me be clear. We were definitely born dual citizens. We meet every requirement. But there is still a chance the German government will refuse to approve the application for my certificate (therefore denying me any rights related to that citizenship).
The process has been frustrating to say the least. It has involved trips to NYC to visit the German Mission, a lot of German-English form translations, and even more digging into family history documents, getting notarized copies of those documents, and mailing them to the NYC office so they could in turn review them and mail them to Germany. And then there’s the waiting. Oh, don’t get me started on the waiting. Let’s just say there have been breaks from a few weeks to over a year in between me sending documents they’ve requested and me hearing anything in return.
Worth the Hassle?
I could just forget about this, know I was born a dual-citizen regardless of whether or not they give me a piece of paper, and leave it at that. But there are real benefits to going through this hassle:
- It would give me the right to live and work in EU nations.
- I can travel a bit more freely around Europe for future family history research.
- If this is settled before I have a child and they reach their first birthday, then I can make sure citizenship passes along to them too. (Update: I was wrong about this. My children will be dual-citizens regardless of whether or not I register their births within their first year. That would only apply to my grandchildren and any later generations.)
- My children will be better prepared for the increasing global economy, able to more easily study abroad without having to worry about things like student visas, and see more of the world after school if they want to. This is one of the biggest concerns for me.
- It’s about my birthright and the tie to my family’s history.
That’s not to say there wouldn’t be complications too. But they’re more than manageable to me. Yet the process itself is starting to feel unbearable. Why? I’m back in another “waiting” phase. Here is what the process has looked like so far:
- I assembled the documentation requested of me — my birth certificate, my father’s birth certificate, my grandparents’ marriage certificate, my grandfather’s German passport to prove his citizenship, and my grandfather’s naturalization papers proving he was still a German citizen when my father was born. I drove to NYC to hand-deliver these to the consulate. I was assured by the person there that it was alright we didn’t have my grandfather’s birth certificate because the passport was enough to prove his former citizenship.
- I waited a while and then received a letter from Germany asking me to fill out a supplementary form about my great-grandparents past in Germany. Despite the fact that their website mentioned no such thing (nor did the employee of the consulate), they said I had to prove their citizenship back to a certain date (I believe 1914, but I can’t recall for certain right now).
- I filled out the supplementary forms. I know they meet those requirements, because I know both great-grandparents were born in Germany and remained there even after they were forced to relocate after WWII. They never gave up their citizenship or moved away from the country. Of course we don’t have any records to that fact — only notes from my grandfather noting where they were from.
- I sent the forms in and waited for a few months before hearing that they did, in fact, want my grandfather’s birth certificate. I informed the person with the consulate (who really has been a dear about helping me through this process) that to the best of my family’s knowledge one didn’t exist any longer. You see, the birth town of my grandfather was pretty much leveled by the Russian military during WWII. People were forced to flee from their homes with only a few hours notice. They even buried possessions they hoped to return for. We don’t know of any birth certificate that my grandfather himself may have had — I have to assume his German passport was enough proof of identity for the U.S. government when he moved here. And since those records used to be kept in churches, and the birth town really doesn’t even exist anymore post-war, I can’t imagine a copy exists (although I would love to be wrong about that). She said she would inform the German office of that fact. And I offered to get a copy of a U.S. government document — his SS-5 application for a social security number — which is the only other government document in existence that lists his parents’ names. I got a certified copy and sent that in.
- This is the point where I waited more than a year with no response. Talk about frustration….
- I emailed the woman with the consulate and asked for an update a few months ago. She said that she sent the documents to Germany and once things were in their hands, there was nothing she could do or say about it.
- Another few months of waiting….
- I emailed her again noting that it had been over two years since I started the process and I’d really like an update, and I offered to re-send any info they might need to speed up the process.
- She responded saying that two years was the average time this process takes, so she would contact the German officials on my behalf for an update since we had already exceeded that average timeframe.
- A little while later she sent me another set of forms to fill out — information I already provided. They wanted updated personal information to make sure I didn’t relocate, get married, etc. since the time the process began.
And that’s where things stand. I’m waiting again. I’m choosing to be optimistic though. If they refused to accept the SS-5 form proving my grandfather’s parents’ names were what I declared on the supplemental form they requested, I have to imagine they would have issued a denial for the certificate. Instead they asked for updated information to make sure nothing else changed about my personal situation (nothing has). My hope is that this form was the last formality, and that I’ll receive the certificate of citizenship before long. Cross your fingers (and toes) for me!
What about you? Would go through a process like this if you found out that you were born a dual-citizen? Or would you just ignore the fact and not pursue the paper trail? Why? Leave a comment below to share your own similar stories or thoughts on why you would or wouldn’t pursue this if you were in my shoes.
As of July 2012, I was officially recognized as a dual U.S.-German citizen. I received a letter stating that my application for a certificate of citizenship was approved at that time — after approximately a 3-year wait. The certificate was in NYC at the time, so I paid a FEDEX fee to have it delivered to me rather than making the trip there again. I have not bothered to get my German passport yet (as of the end of 2013) as I have to sort out some married name issues on my U.S. passport first. As I have no specific trips planned, it’s not a rush for me. But the process was most definitely worth it! 🙂
*Image credit: tjuel (via Flickr)