Have you ever wondered if your ancestors traveled? If they did, they may have applied for a passport. A passport was not mandatory in the United States for travel outside the country until 1941, except for in short periods during the Civil War and World War I. However, if your ancestor did apply for a passport, the information on the US passport record could be substantial.
The History of the United States Passport
The United States issued passports as early as 1789. Prior to August 23, 1856, a state could issue a person a passport. Congress passed an act in 1856, however, giving the Department of State the sole responsibility for issuing United States passports, which moved these documents to the federal level.
Who Could Apply for a Passport
Most early passport applications were filed by men. If a man was going to be accompanied by his wife, children, servants, or other females, then their names, ages, and relationships would be added to the passport application and the record of the man. Similarly, if a child traveled with only his or her mother, the child’s name and age would be included on the mother’s passport. Passport applications could be filled out by single women, but these kinds of applications were not as common until the early 1900s.
Generally, the United States issued passports only to United States citizens. One exception to this rule included people who had declared their intent to naturalize and were applying for a passport between March 3, 1863 (12 Stat. 754), when the related act of Congress went into effect, and May 30, 1866 (14 Stat. 54), when the act was repealed. Again, in the 20th century, people who declared their intent to naturalize could apply for a passport during the time between the Congressional act of March 2, 1907 (12 Stat. 754), and its repeal on June 4, 1920 (41 Stat. 751).
Finding Your Ancestor’s US Passport Records
United States passports were usually valid for only two years or less. For this reason, researchers often search passport applications indexes for the entire lifespan of their ancestor.
You can search by name for your ancestor in the collection titled “United States Passport Applications, 1795–1925” on FamilySearch.org.
Depending on the time frame, a passport application may contain some or all of the following information:
- Application date and place
- Birth date and place
- Name of husband or father
- Husband’s or father’s birth date and birth place
- Husband’s or father’s residence
- Husband’s or father’s citizenship information
- Applicant’s residence
- Applicant’s occupation
- Length of time intending to be out of the United States
- Where traveling to
- Why traveling
- Port of departure
- Name of vessel
- Date of departure
- Oath of allegiance statement
- Applicant’s age
- Applicant’s physical description
- Witness’s statement
- Witness’s signature
- Applicant’s signature
- Applicant’s photograph
- Name and position of the person receiving the application and the witness’s statement
- Name and location of the court where the application and the witness’s statement were made
Department of State
Research and Liaison Branch
1111 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20522-1705
To obtain a post-April 1925 copy of the passport for your ancestor, you will pay $60.00 and will need to include one of the following items in your request:
- Notarized consent from the owner of the passport record.
- Proof of guardianship.
- Death certificate.
- Court order signed by a judge of competent jurisdiction requesting the Department of State to release the passport record.
There is one exception to these requirements, which is if the owner of the passport record was born 100 or more years ago. The $60.00 fee still applies, however.
US Passport records are a great source of genealogical information, and you may be surprised at just how many of your ancestors applied for one.
Source: Family Search