We are bombarded with so much data these days that we’re apt to overlook some excellent sources of genealogical information. One of these is the passport application.

Would you believe, the U.S. Department of State has issued passports to people traveling abroad since 1789, although it didn’t have the authority to do so until Congress passed an act in 1856 that prohibited state and judicial governments from issuing passports.

Travel to foreign locations in the nineteenth century was actually more frequent than you might think. People who traveled overseas included the middle class, businessmen and people returning to their homeland to visit relatives.

“For example, statistics show that the State Department issued 130,360 passports between 1810 and 1873, more than 369,844 between 1877 and 1909, and more than 1,184,085 between 1912 and 1925. It is unknown how many American citizens traveled abroad with passports issued by state or judicial authorities prior to 1856 or without any passport prior to 1918.

Although 95 percent of mid-19th century passport applicants were men, many women also traveled overseas. If the applicant was to be accompanied by his wife, children, servants, or other females under his protection, their names, ages, and relationship to the applicant were stated on the passport application. One passport was then issued to cover the whole group. Likewise, when children traveled abroad solely with their mother, their names and ages were indicated on the mother’s passport application. Passport applications by women in their own names became more frequent in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and by 1923 women constituted over 40 percent of passport applicants.”

To learn about Search Strategy, Types of Passports, Where to Find the Records and get more information, click on the link to the National Archives.

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