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U.S. Passport application 

Applications for passports are a great place to find genealogical data, particularly for people who were born abroad. Applications for passports are available from October 1795 to March 1925 at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and from April 1925 to the present at the U.S. Department of State.

Since 1789, the Department of State has been issuing passports to Americans traveling abroad, but it did not possess exclusive authority to do so until August 23, 1856, when Congress passed a law (11 Statutes at Large 52, 60) forbidding the issuing of passports by other governmental bodies, such as state and judicial authorities.

Contrary to popular belief, the nineteenth century saw a lot more international travel. Businessmen, members of the middle class, and U.S. citizens who had become naturalized were among those who travelled abroad to visit family. For instance, figures reveal that between 1810 and 1873, the State Department issued 130,360 passports; between 1877 and 1909, more than 369,844; and between 1912 and 1925, more than 1,184,085 passports. It is unknown how many citizens of the United States left the country before 1856 with passports granted by state or judicial officials or without a passport at all.

Although men made about 95% of passport applications in the middle of the 19th century, numerous women also travelled abroad. The names, ages, and relationships of any females who would be traveling with the applicant—including his wife, children, servants, and other women under his protection—were listed on the passport application. The entire group was subsequently given a single passport. Children’s names and ages were also listed on the mother’s passport application when she went overseas by herself. In the later half of the nineteenth century, women began applying for passports in their own names increasingly frequently, and by 1923, they made up over 40% of passport applicants.



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