Now What? Passport to Pedigrees

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

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 wartime — Aug. 19, 1861, to March 17, 1862, (Civil War) and May 22, 1918, to 1921 (World War I), passports were not required of US citizens who traveled out of the country prior to 1941. Many Americans, however, obtained them 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 II, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740; phone (301) 713-6800; fax (301) 713-6905; e-mail; Web site <>. Passports are on microfilm at this repository, and there are indexes and registers to help you use them. The Family History Library also has microfilm of these passports. Check its catalog at <>. In the “Author” search, type “United States Immigration and Naturalization Service” in the corporate name box, then look for the link to passport applications and indexes.

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.

Outbound passenger lists are filed with 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 still exist. A better resource would be the passenger arrival lists to America when the individual returned from traveling to a foreign country. (For more on immigration records, see the December 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine.)

From the April 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine