United States Passports

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Portal:United States Emigration and Immigration ► Passports

United States Passports

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 requiremnts.  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. However, during times of war, restrictions on travel were implemented and the U.S. government and some European conuntries 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 counteis 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 concerning 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 Fort 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 tracel or business abroad.

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

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 orignal 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.

Availablity of Passports

The National Archives has microfilmed many of the passports issued between 1795 to 1925 and the Family History Library has collections of these microfilmed copies of passport records and indexes.  To determine the microfilm you need, search the Register of US Passports publication created by the Family History Library:

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), FHL Book 973 W4f.

For passports not at the Family History Library from 1795 to March 31, 1925 contact:

National Archives
Archives 1, Reference Branch
8th & Pennsylvania Ave., NW,
Washington, D.C. 20408

For passport applications after March 31, 1925 to the present, write:

Department of State Reasearch
Liaison Branch
1111 19th Street NW
Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20524


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), FHL Book 973 W4f.