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Information and Passport Application Records
From the National Archives



Since 1798 the Department of State has issued passports to United States citizens traveling abroad. The Department did not, however, have sole authority to do so until an Act of August 18, 1856 (11 Stat.60), for the first time regulated the issuance of passports.

There was no statutory requirement that Americans obtain a passport for travel abroad until World War l, although an order by Secretary of State William H. Seward prohibited departure from or entry into the United States without passport during the period August 19, 1861 – March 17, 1862. Many persons did obtain passport, however, because they were required by the countries to which they were traveling or because the traveler wanted the protection a passport might provide. On November 14, 1914, the State Department issued a requirement that American citizens must have a valid passport for travel abroad. This was followed by Executive Order 2285 of December 15, 1915, which gave presidential authorization to the same requirement. Then, the Travel Control Act of May 22, 1918, made the requirement a matter of statutory law. A Joint Congressional Resolution of March 3, 1921, technically ended the wartime restriction of travel, including the passport requirement. An Act of June 21, 1941, reimposed the statutory requirements, and the “Immigration and Nationality Act” of June 27, 1952, made it unlawful to depart from the United States without a valid passport.

State Department passport records in the custody of the National Archives include application dated October 27, 1795 – November 30, 1812, February 22, 1830 – November 15, 1831; and May 13, 1833 – December 31, 1905; emergency applications submitted abroad, 1877 – 1907; originals and copies of passports, 1794 – 1901; and applications for special (diplomatic) passport, 1829 – 1897. Applications dated 1906 – 1925 are in our Civil Reference Branch in Suitland, Maryland.

Finding aids for these records are incomplete. There is an alphabetical card index for application dated 1850 – 1852 and 1860 – 1880. For the years 1810 – 1817 and 1834 – 1904 there are also registers and indexes which vary by arrangement. Some are chronological and some are alphabetical by the first letter(s) of the applicant’s surname.

For post –1923 application, please contract the Passport Office, Bureau of Consular Affairs, FAIM/RS, Room 1239, Department of State, 22nd & C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20520. The State Department maintains passport application stating in 1925, and a name index that begins in 1923. If the passport application you seek was made between 1923 and 1925, the State Department will provide you with an application number, which you should in turn send to the National Archives.

The alphabetical card index for passport application dated 1850 – 1852 and 1860 – 1880 is held in the Family history Library at Salt Lake City. The computer number in the catalog is 437973, the actual microfilm numbers are 1429876 – 1429903.

Textual Reference Branch
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, D.C.


From the Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, by Val Greenwood

'All passport applications filed with the US state Department from 1791 to 1905 are in the National Archives, but at no time during that period were passports required by law, except during part of the Civil War. Many persons, however, did secure passports for the protection which they afforded.

'The applications from 1810 through 1905 are bound, and there are various card and book indexes covering the period from 1834 to 1905.

'The earliest applications were merely letters of request, but other papers often accompanied them and were filed with them. Those other papers included expired passports, birth certificates, certificates of citizenship,etc. Regarding record content the Guide to Genealogical Research says:
   'A passport application varies in contents, the information being ordinarily less
  Detailed before the Civil War period than afterward. It usually contains the
  Name, signature, place of residence, age and personal description of the
  Applicant; name or number of persons in the family intending to travel; the date;
  And where appropriate, the date and court of naturalization. It sometimes
  Contains the exact date and place of birth of the applicant and of spouse and
  Minor children, if any, accompanying the applicant; and if the applicant was a
  Naturalized citizen, the date and port of his arrival in the United States,
  name of vessel on which applicant arrived, and the date and court of naturalization.'

'Passports, of course, are a source with limited value. They are of use only if you ancestor traveled abroad and happened to secure one. But it was common for immigrants to secure passports when they traveled to their homelands to visit (even when not required to do so by law) because they were in danger of being drafted into military service if they went without them.'


Submitted by Red and Boots


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