United States Passports

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Passport Records Online

History of Passports in the United States

Definition of a passport:  A document issued by an authorized official of a country to one of its own citizens and usually necessary for "exit from" and "re-entry into" the home country.  With a passport, the citizen may travel in foreign countries in accordance with visa requirements.  Citizens may use it to request protection for that citizen while abroad.

The word passport comes from the French words "passer" (to enter or leave) and "port" (port or harbor). 

Before 1952, passports were optional for U.S. citizens to travel abroad and to return to the United States.  By December 15, 1915, passports were recommended and all citizens leaving the U.S. should have a passport.  However, during times of war, restrictions on travel were implemented and the U.S. government and some European countries required passports for travel in their countries.

Not every citizen who traveled abroad obtained a passport.  However, passports were often obtained by U.S. citizens, whether newly naturalized or not, to protect themselves from being detained in other countries or (if naturalized) from their own mother countries.  Some European countries were known to draft immigrants visiting their homeland into the military. A passport was used to prove citizenship and protect the traveler.

Immigrants did not need a passport to immigrate to America.  Generally, the U.S. government gave passports only to U.S. citizens traveling abroad in foreign countries, and for re-entry into the U.S.

Information on Passports

Over the years, passports and passport applications contained different amounts of information about the passport applicant.  The first passports that are available begin in 1795.  These usually contained the individual's name, description of individual, and age.  More information was required on later passport applications, such as:

  • Birthplace 
  • Birth date
  • Naturalization information
  • Arrival information, if foreign born


Dates Passports were required:

Dates Issued                                                When Required                                       
August 1861 - March 17, 1862 For all Travel
May 22, 1918-1921 (End of WWI) For all travel
June 21, 1941-1945 (End of WWII) For all travel
1952 to June 1, 2009 June 1, 2009 For travel in every country except some countries within North, South, or Central America
June 1, 2009 to Present For all travel

Categories of Passports

Basic Passports:  Issued to citizens requesting a passport for travel or business abroad.

Special Passports: Issued to U.S. government and military employees and their families such as Diplomatic and Consular offices.

Emergency Passports:  Only given by U.S. Diplomatic and Consular officials in a foreign country.  Emergency passports were generally valid for 6 months.

Passport Extensions:  Extensions (1910-1917) give the original passport application number, which can be used to obtain the original passport application.

Passports issued by the New York Passport Office: Contains passport applications only for applications that utilized the New York Passport Office.

Consular Passport Registrations: Issued by U.S. Consular offices overseas.

Registration Certificates, Widows, Divorced Women and Minors, 1907-1918:  Registration of women and children who obtain personal passports instead of using their husbands' or guardians' passports.

Passport Registries: May contain the passport application number required to obtain the passport application, which may have more information than the passport register.

Availability of Passports, 1795-March 1925


National Archives

The National Archives has microfilmed the passport applications from 1795 to March 1925.  You can search these microfilms in person when you visit the National Archives in Washington DC. Begin your research in the Robert M. Warner Research Center. Staff is available there to answer your questions.

In Person: Verify research room hours before you go: 202-357-5400.

National Archives Building
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20408-0001

By Mail: Paper copies of passport applications, 1795 - March 1925, can be ordered by mail from:

National Archives and Records Administration
Attn: Archives I Research Support Branch (NWCC1)
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20408-0001
Your letter must include the following information: your name and mailing (postal) address; the passport applicant's name, year of birth, place of residence at the time the application was made, and the approximate year of travel. If they locate the records that you request, they will send you an order form and instructions to order copies.


To obtain passport applications through an online request:
1. Go to www.archives.gov/contact/, and click on the links in the following order:
2. "I have a question about research and records"
3. "People & Groups"
4. "State Department Files"
5. Select "Passport applications" from the drop-down box, and hit "Go".
6. Then click on the "Reference Request" link in the upper right.
Your online form must include the following information: your name and mailing (postal) address; the passport applicant's name, year of birth, place of residence at the time the application was made, and the approximate year of travel. If they locate the records that you request, they will send you an order form and instructions on ordering copies.

National Archives Regional Facilities

Some National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regional facilities have selected microfilmed passport records. Use their microfilm catalog to determine which NARA facilities have passport microfilm, or call the facility to verify passport microfilm availability.

To locate a regional facility near you, click here.

Family History Library

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of passport records and indexes from 1795 to March 1925. To determine the microfilm you need, search the Register of United States Passports publication created by the Family History Library:

Register of United States Passports 1795-1925 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library, c2001), FHL Book 973 W4f. ]This book is avialable FamilySearch Books Online.

Availablity of Passports, April 1925 to Present

State Department

The Department of State has passports from April 1925 to Present.  Copies of passport applications can be ordered by mail from:

Department of State
Research & Liasion Branch
1111 19th Street NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20522-1705

To obtain a copy of a passport for your ancestor (third party request), you must include one of the following in your request:

  1. Notarized consent from the owner of the passport records
  2. Proof of guardianship
  3. Death certificate
  4. Court order signed by a judge of competent jurisdiction requesting the Department of State to release passport records
  5. The only exception to this requirement is when the owner of the passport records was born 100 years or more ago

There is a $60.00 search fee for each third party request. Checks or money orders should be made payable to “Department of State." In your request you must also include the following:

  • Your full name at birth and any subsequent name changes and/or the full name of your minor child or children, if you are requesting their records
  • Your date and place of birth and/or those of your minor child or children
  • Your current mailing address
  • Your current daytime telephone number
  • Your current e-mail address, if available
  • Your reason for the request
  • A copy of requestor's valid photo identification

NOTE: Passport records do not include evidence of travel such as entrance/exit stamps, visas, residence permits, etc., since this information is entered into the passport book after it is issued.

For more information, click here.


The above information was taken from the following sources:

  • Passport Office, The United States passport: Past, Present, Future (Washington, D.C.: Department of State, 1976).
  • Kathie O. Nicastro and Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "Passport Applications: A Key to Discovering Your Immigrant Ancestor's Rotts," Prologue, Winter 1993, 390-394.
  • John Philip Colletta, "U.S. Passport Applications: Leads to Immigration and Naturalization Records," Heritage Quest, Sept/Oct 1997, 9-15.
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah), Register of United States Passports 1795-1925 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family History Library, c2001), FamilySearch Books Online.