21 July 2017

Your Family Tree Needs Your Ancestor's Passport Application

Did your immigrant ancestor travel back to the old country to visit his family? You may be able to find his U.S. passport application—complete with passport photo.

The Robison family of Westchester County, New York, planned to visit England, France, Italy, Egypt and Palestine in 1924. Their passport photo includes the entire family. The application provides everyone's name, date of birth and birthplace. Plus it includes Mr. Robison's father's name and place of birth, and his wife's maiden name.
A single passport application provided important genealogy facts for eight people.
A single passport application provided important genealogy facts for eight people.

This single document provides key facts for eight people! That is a fantastic find for any genealogist.

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Smith traveled to the British Isles in 1922 to visit family, and apparently to help me find the needle in the Smith haystack. With their passport application information, I was able to find the right Smith family for my family tree.
Faces to go along with the names!
Faces to go along with the names!

U.S. government-issued passports date back to 1789. Passports were required for foreign travel during the Civil War and World War I. The rules eased for a while, but the requirement became permanent once World War II began.

If your ancestor went back to the old country to visit his parents, he might not be allowed back into the United States without a passport.

The National Archives in Washington, DC, holds passport applications from 1795–1925. They are available to some extent on ancestry.com and elsewhere.

Finding your ancestor's passport application can give you many facts, including the applicant's:
  • Birth date or age
  • Birthplace
  • Residence
  • Father's and/or husband's:
    • name
    • birth date or age
    • birthplace
    • residence
  • Wife's name
  • Date and place of immigration to the U.S.
  • Years of residence in the U.S.
  • Naturalization date and place
  • Occupation
  • Physical characteristics
  • Photograph—which may include other family members

Whichever resource you use, first check the description of the collection to see if it may include your ancestor.

Hopefully you'll find a thorough application with a photograph. That is certainly worth your ancestor's ticket price.

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