Does your genealogy hunt have you searching for your ancestor's passport? Here's where to look.
Q. When were passports first issued? Where are passport records located? And, before passports, were records kept of an individual's travels to foreign ports? Where can these be located?
A. Except for brief periods during and after wartimes—Aug. 19, 1861, to March 17, 1862, (Civil War) and May 22, 1918, to 1921 (World War I)—passports weren't required of US citizens who traveled out of the country until 1941.
Many Americans, however, obtained passports for their own security. Passports were, and still are, issued by the Department of State, and those issued from 1791 to 1925 have been transferred to the National Archives. The originals are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Md
. Passports are on microfilm there, and the facility are indexes and registers to help you use them. The Family History Library
(FHL) also has copies of this microfilm; you can rent it for viewing through a local branch FamilySearch Center.
You'll find searchable databases of US passport applications on subscription sites Ancestry.com
(1795-1925) and Fold3.com
Early passport applications contain little information, but from 1906 to 1925 they included the name of applicant, date and place of birth, name and date and place of birth of spouse or children, residence and occupation at the time of application, immediate travel plans, physical description and a photograph. Passport applications of naturalized citizens included information about their immigration and naturalization, plus the date and port of arrival, name of ship, and the date and court of naturalization.
For passports after 1925, write to the Passport Office, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520. If the applicant of the passport is still alive, you will need a letter from the applicant; if the person is deceased, you need to provide a copy of the death certificate and state your relationship to the deceased.
Records of passengers leaving the United States for a port abroad, if they survived, would be at the foreign port of arrival. Check first the catalog of the Family History Library under the country and port city to see if these records exist. A better strategy would be to check passenger arrival lists to America when the individual returned from traveling to a foreign country. You'll find these on NARA and FHL microfilm and online at Ancestry.com. Records of New York arrivals are free at EllisIsland.org and FamilySearch.org.
Learn more about genealogical records at federal agencies such as Citizenship and Immigration Services, Railroad Retirement Board and even the FBI in our guide Research Strategies: Federal Agency Records, available through ShopFamilyTree.com.