Passport Applications: A Rich Genealogical Resource
- Newsletter of the BCG
Patricia O'Brien Shawker , "Passport
Applications: A Rich Genealogical Resource," OnBoard
13 (May 2007): 12-13.
Passport applications can be an excellent source of genealogical
information for ancestors who were known to have worked
or traveled outside the United States. The National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA) has the passport applications,
not the actual passports, that were issued by the State
Department from October 1795 through 31 March 1925. The
textual records are available at Archives II in College
Park, Maryland; microﬁlm of most passport
applications are available at Archives II, Archives I in
Washington, several NARA Regional facilities, and the Family
History Library in Salt Lake City. Applications issued
on or after 1 April 1925 are in the possession of the U.S.
Department of State.1
As a general rule, passports were not required for foreign
travel except during the early portion of the Civil War
(August 1861–March 1862) and after World War I (May
1918–1921). By 15 September 1914, passports were
recommended for those who traveled abroad. Although
it was not until 21 June 1941 that passports were required for foreign travel, more than 168 million were issued prior
to the requirement.2
Number of Passports Issued
Americans traveled abroad in the nineteenth century more
frequently than you might expect. Those who traveled overseas
included businessmen, government workers, middle and upper
class individuals, and naturalized citizens and their families,
who had prospered in the U.S., returned to their homeland
to visit relatives. Women applied for passports in their
own names toward the end of the nineteenth century; by 1923
they represented over 40 percent of passport applications.
Although passports were normally issued only to U.S. citizens,
from 1863 to 1866 and from 1907 to 1920, resident aliens
who had ﬁled a declaration of intention were allowed
to have a U.S. passport. Native-born citizens completed
application forms different from those ﬁled by naturalized
Passport Applications include the following
- Applicant’s age or birth date and signature
- Place of birth and residence at the time of issuance
- Occupation of applicant and reason for foreign travel
- Physical description; photographs were required
after 21 December 1914
- If an immigrant, the ship and date of arrival, the date
and court of naturalization
- If traveling with family, spouse and children’s
names with relationship and age
- Foreign destination or destinations
- A list of previous passports issued and countries visited
Historically, four types of passport applications were
issued: regular, emergency, insular, and special passport
applications. The regular passport applications represent
the majority of passports issued, and like today, were issued
to citizens who were leaving the country.4 Emergency passports
were issued outside the United States by diplomatic and
consular ofﬁcials to U.S. citizens in a foreign country
for emergency purposes only; they were usually issued to
serve as identiﬁcation and were valid for only six
months.5 Insular passports were issued in the early twentieth
century to individuals living in Hawaii, the Philippines,
and Puerto Rico.6 Special passport applications were issued
by the State Department to diplomats and government ofﬁcials
and their families traveling abroad on ofﬁcial government
business.7 With the exception of insular passport applications,
most other passport applications are indexed.8 There may
have been more than one application ﬁled by an individual
since passports for these periods were usually only valid
for two years.
In 1896, Paul Morrison of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois,
submitted a passport application. He solemnly swore that
he was born in Kovno, Russia, on or about 16 November 1867,
that he emigrated to the U.S. on an English vessel that
left from Liverpool on or about 1 November 1884. He further
stated that he resided in the United States uninterruptedly
from 1884 to 1896 in Chicago, Illinois, that he was naturalized
as a citizen of the U.S. before the Superior Court of Cook
County at Chicago, Illinois, on 12 October 1891 as shown
by the accompanying certiﬁcate of naturalization.
His permanent residence was Chicago where he was a wholesale
jeweler. He was twenty-nine years of age, ﬁve feet
eight inches tall, had a high forehead, brown eyes, a large
nose, a medium mouth, a round chin, black hair, a dark complexion,
and a round face. His residence at the time of his application
was 178 E. Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois (NARA microﬁlm
publication M1372, roll 462, Application No. 8727, 1 April
To use these records most effectively, one needs to identify
an ancestor who might have had a passport and to ﬁnd
the approximate date of issue or the passport number. As
seen in the example listed above, passport applications
are a valuable source of genealogical information.
Copies of later applications must be obtained from Department
of State, Research & Liaison Branch, 1111 19th Street
NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20522-1705. For more
information, see: http://travel.state.gov/pass-port/services/copies/copies_872.html.
2. See: http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/passport/.
4. National Archives (NARA) microﬁlm M1372 covers applications
from 27 October 1795–31 December 1905 (with gaps) and M1490 covers
those issued from 2 January 1906–31 March 1925.
5. NARA microﬁlm M1834 covers 1877 to 1907. Those issued from
1907 to 1926 are available in textual records only. Emergency passports
were discontinued pursuant to an Act of Congress passed on 3 July 1926.
6. These applications are available in textual records
only at Archives II and there are no indexes to the insular passport applications.
The U.S. territories issued insular passports were Hawaii (1916–1924),
the Philippines (1901–1924), and Puerto Rico (1910–1922).
7. The applications are indexed; however, they are available
at Archives II as textual records (1829–1925) or from the Family
History Library (FHL) on microﬁlm (1829–1897), volumes 1
through 13 only.
8. Indexes to passport applications are available in NARA.
Microﬁlm publications M1371, Registers and
Indexes for Passport Ap-plications 1810–1906 and M1848, Index to Passport Applications,
1850–52, 1860–1880, 1881, and 1906–1923. Some M1848
entries duplicate those on M1371, however rolls 30–52 cover 1906–1923
and continues where M1371 ends. Passport “extensions,” 1917–1920,
are on rolls 53–57.
Patricia O'Brien Shawker, CGSM
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