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 ususally 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.  Citizensmay 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 tortect the traveler.

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 Required
August 1861 - March 17, 1862
May 22, 1918-1921 (End of WWI
June 21, 1941-1945 (End of WWII
1952 to Present*
  • Required for travel except for some countires within, North, South or Central America.


Categories of Passports

Basic Passports:  Issued to citizens requesting a passport for trael 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 ofirignal 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 aplications that utilzed 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 papssports 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 informtion than the passport register.




Availablity of Passports

The National Archives has microfilmed many of the passports issued between 1795 to 1925. 


The Family History Library has collections of passport records and indexes from the National Archives including:

  • United States. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Passport Applications, 1795-1924; Indexes, 1830- 1831, 1850-1852, 1860-1925. Washington, D.C.: Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1985. (On 2,090 FHL films starting with 1429876.)

Other passport records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION. Later records are generally restricted and are in the custody of the U.S. Department of State.




  1. Passport Office, The United States passport: Past, Present, Future (Washington, D.C.: Department of State, 1976).
  2. Kathie O. Nicastro and Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "Passport Applications: A Key to Discovering Your Immigrant Ancestor's Rotts," Prologue, Winter 1993, 390-394.
  3. John Philip Colletta, "U.S. Passport Applications: Leads to Immigration and Naturalization Records," Heritage Quest, Sept/Oct 1997, 9-15.
  4. 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; http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/FH33&CISOPTR=2946