Von Trapp Family: Documenting Immigration

U.S. National Archives

Many know of the von Trapp Family from the fictionalized telling of their lives in The Sound of Music. In 1938, the family fled from Austria to Italy. They entered the United States at New York in the fall of 1938 under visitors' visas and began a concert tour. When the visas expired, they left for a short tour in Scandinavia. Returning to the US, the family settled in Stowe, VT in 1940, eventually becoming citizens.

Immigration and naturalization can be a long, complicated process. Ellis Island, shown here, is known as a center of immigration. However, not all people entered the United States here. The von Trapp family came through Ellis Island on 6 month visitors visas but returned to Europe upon expiration. The family later returned and began the naturalization process.

The process of naturalization in the 1940's had several steps. The first step was to establish arrival in the US, shown on the Certificate of Arrival documents. After two years, a Declaration of Intent was filed and included residency information. After an additional three years, a Petition for Naturalization was submitted. After this final document was completed, citizenship could either be granted or denied by the courts.

For more information about these documents, visit the National Archives site:

Certificate of Arrival documents show the legal arrival of aliens to the United States and are an important step in the citizenship process. In the case of the von Trapp women, it documents their arrival in the US in 1942 in Niagara Falls, NY. While they entered the United States several times in earlier years, they had to acquire these documents in order to begin the citizenship process.

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. She married Georg von Trapp, father of seven, in 1927. They had an additional three children of their own.

Maria and her five stepdaughters began the citizenship process in the early 1940s.

Agathe von Trapp (1913-2010) was the second child and eldest daughter of Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agatha Whitehead.

Maria Agathe (1914–2014) was the third child of Georg and Agathe von Trapp.

Hedwig (1917–1972) was the fifth child born to Georg and Agathe.

Certificate of Arrival for Johanna von Trapp (1919–1994).

Martina von Trapp (1921–1952) was the youngest of Maria von Trapp's stepchildren.

The Declaration of Intention lists a number of details including the persons height, weight, eye and hair color, age and marital status. Also listed is the place of entry to the United States and the last place of foreign residence.

This document is Maria's Declaration of Intention. It lists her husband's name, date and place of birth as well as the names of their children. Maria's two daughters gained citizenship through their mother and her son was a citizen in his own right, having been born in the United States. Daughter Rosemarie's birth is listed here as 1928. Other documents not seen here list it as 1929, which is commonly believed to be the correct date.

Photo of Maria von Trapp on her Declaration of Intention.

Agathe, her sisters, and her stepmother filed these documents in January 1944.

At the bottom of the page, the record number for her Certificate of Arrival can be found.

These documents typically list the full name of the person in multiple locations. There are sometimes minor spelling discrepancies, such as the 'C' swapped for 'K' in the name, seen here.

Here, Maria's middle name is spelled 'Franzisca'. There are also personal details such as the brown mole that was on the side of her face.

Here the spelling is 'Franziska'.

Also note that the sections that do not apply to Maria, such as information on children, are crossed out.

The Certificate of Arrival recieved in 1942 was needed in order to fill out these forms. The family entered the US and was held at Ellis Island in 1939. However, it does not appear that they received Certificates of Arrival at that time. It was therefore necessary for them to acquire the documents in 1942.

The Declaration of Intention lists the information from the Certificate of Arrival here.

Johanna and Martina were the only two of Maria's stepdaughters to marry. Johanna and her husband lived in the United States and Austria.

Martina von Trapp married in 1949. In 1951, she tragically died from complications delivering her stillborn daughter.

This document is a Petition for Admission to the United States with a married name. This document states that Johanna was married to Ernst Winter on March 29, 1948 and is requesting a Certificate of Naturalization in her married name.

The Petition of Naturalization for Maria von Trapp tells of a sad development. Her husband, Georg, passed away on May 30, 1947.

The Petition for Naturalization requires two witnesses who have known the applicant and affirm their moral character.

At the bottom of the document, Agathe renounces any and all allegiance to any foreign nation upon becoming a citizen, as required.

The last part of the document states if the petition was granted or denied.

The von Trapp women changed their surname from von Trapp to simply Trapp upon becoming American citizens.

Maria and her stepmother became missionaries and traveled to Papua New Guinea.

Hedwig von Trapp became a teacher, living in Hawaii for several years.

At the end of the document, petitioners are required to swear an oath of allegiance and renounce any noble titles if any were held.

The Trapp Family Singers toured the country until 1957.

All petitions show residence, profession, date and place of birth; height, weight, hair and eye color. In addition to this, date and place of birth of spouse is requested and date of marriage, if applicable. Other required details include nationality and last place of foreign residence; date and place of entrance into the United States; and the names of two witnesses to the petition.

Of the twelve total von Trapp family members, only these six went through this citizenship process. The two sons born to Georg and his first wife, Agathe, gained citizenship through service in the U.S. military. The two daughters born to Georg and Maria gained citizenship through their mother while their son was born in the U.S. and thus a citizen in his own right. Georg never sought citizenship.

Von Trapp Family descendants continue to run the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT to this day. The von Trapp family is only one story of immigration. Countless others can be found in records like these in National Archives locations.
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