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
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
'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
'A passport application varies in contents, the information being
Detailed before the Civil War period than afterward. It usually
Name, signature, place of residence, age and personal description
Applicant; name or number of persons in the family intending to
travel; the date;
And where appropriate, the date and court of naturalization. It
Contains the exact date and place of birth of the applicant and of
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
name of vessel on which applicant arrived, and the date and court of
'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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