Family Tree Friday: Passport Applications Provide Information About Individuals

Did your ancestor travel abroad?  If your ancestor was a U.S. citizen, then he or she may have applied for a U.S. passport.  The records include standard information such as the date of birth, occupation, and citizenship information.  Some of the applications provide additional information that may lead to immigration or naturalization records.  Some even give detailed information about family members.

Cyril Bretherton’s 1915 application is a fascinating example of the type of information you can find.  He submitted a letter with his application stating that he was naturalized on January 22, 1913 through the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California.  In April of 1915, his wife, Norah Annie Bretherton, applied for a passport using Cyril’s naturalization papers as proof of her citizenship.  Her passport, along with her husband’s naturalization certificate, was forwarded to the ship she was scheduled to sail on – the S.S. Lusitania.  When the ship sank on May 7, Norah lost all of her luggage, including her passport and the naturalization record.  Cyril wanted to bring his wife back to the U.S.   


 The National Archives holds the passport applications submitted to the Department of State between 1795 and March 31, 1925.  You can view these records online at or  For additional information, see

17 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: Passport Applications Provide Information About Individuals

  1. Katherine,

    Where would I find a passport application that was filed with an overseas embassy? I have someone I am researching who was born in the U.S. in 1916. His parents were immigrants from Lithuania who returned to Lithuania in 1932.

    Would their son (age 16) have filed for a passport when they left the U.S.? If not, wouldn’t he have needed to establish his citizenship before being issued paperwork from the U.S. consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania before he returned in 1937.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Tom S.

    1. Hi Tom,

      He probably would have had a passport when they left the U.S., as they were required for travel by U.S. citizens at that time. One thing I’ve learned, though, is that there is always an exception to every rule! We have found U.S. citizens travelling without passports even when they were required.

      Since they left the U.S. in 1932, any passport application would still be in the custody of the Department of State (our records only go up to mid-1925). If he didn’t apply for a passport before the trip, he definitely would have had to establish his citizenship before he came back. Passports were also issued at the consulates or embassies, and they are also be in the custody of the Department of State. There were also emergency passports, which were issued at consulates and embassies. They were usually issued when a traveller lost their passport (much like today). Again, from this time period, the records will be in the custody of the Department of State. You can find information on how to request a search through them on their website . Even though there were different types of passports issued, you will only need to submit one request to them.

      I hope this helps you with your research!

      – Katherine

      1. Hi again, Tom,

        I just realized my previous answer isn’t entirely clear. I think I deleted a line or two and forgot to add them back in!

        We actually do hold some of the later consular-issued passports. But they are very difficult to locate, as there are no indexes and you need to know exactly when and where they were issued. I’d still start with the Department of State, as he should have had one when he left the U.S. But this gives you another option if that doesn’t work out.

        Sorry for any confusion,


  2. My Grandfather migrated to the US in 1902 from Sweden. I found he also went back to Sweden and re-entered the US a couple of more times prior to becoming a naturalized citizen in 1922. What documentation would he have had to use to exit the US? When re-entering the US would he have had to complete an application to immigrate?

    In 1913, he entered the US in Sumas, Washington from Cacada. The on-line information is rather limited at best, Would he have had to fill out a more through application to be allowed to enter the US?

    I have other relatives who traveled from the US to Ireland several times from 1930 to 1944. I can not find documentation when they left the US, however I did find border crossing cards where they re-entered from Canada.

    Again, I am at a loss to find documentation authorizing or allowing an alien to leave and re-enter the US.

    Any help understanding the process of leaving/entering the US or where I can go to obtain information would be appreciated.

    Chuck W.

    1. Hi Chuck,

      In general, and particularly in the early 20th century, aliens did not have to seek permission or fill out any formal application to enter the country; they were simply listed on the ship’s passenger manifest. (Even for the ones who were flagged by INS for examination–and by no means were all immigrants flagged–we do not have any detailed records. All immigrants had to go through a brief, basic medical exam, but they were only flagged if problems were discovered). The federal government, also, never tracked anyone leaving the country (aliens or citizens), so there was no required paperwork to exit the U.S. Essentially, an alien could come and go at will, and the only records we have would be the passenger arrivals showing each time they entered or reentered the country. No green cards were issued at that time, so aliens were free to stay and work as long as they liked until they decided to become a naturalized citizen.

      – John

  3. do I have access to my passport applications from the 1960s? if so, are they in paper form or on microfilm?


    1. Hi Pam,

      The passport applications that are held by the National Archives cover 1795 to March 31, 1925. The later records are held by the Department of State. You can get access to these records, but the procedure is totally different than requesting them from us. Their website has a page which will give you all the necessary instructions. The reason that there are so many restrictions is that these records are still closed for privacy reasons.

      The passport applications are in their original (paper) format, and you will probably receive paper copies.

      – Katherine

  4. How would I go about obtaining a passport application issued from Washington DC on May 21 1932? The passport was for my husband’s grandmother who immigrated from Lithuania and was naturalized in 1930. I’m hoping there may be a photo as my husband’s family have no photo’s of his grandmother and I’d like to get one if possible. Thanks
    Judy Dallalis

    1. Hi Judy,

      The State Department has copies of passport applications from Apr. 1925 to the present, and you mentioned you are interested in a passport issued in 1932. Information about ordering copies is on the State Department’s Travel.State.Gov website:

      The National Archives has passport applications from Oct. 1795 to Mar. 1925. For more information about passport applications at the National Archives, check out this page:

      Good luck!

      Jill (Admin)

  5. Jill, thanks so much the information. The site says that the search is $150.00, before I spend the money I just want to ensure that the application will have a photo of my husband’s grandmother. We have the passport number, date issued and Washington DC. It also appears that we can get it since she was born over 100 years ago (she died in 1945) Since my husband has never seen a photo of her I’m anxious to get the application if I can be sure a photo of her will be on the application, do you have any infromation on this?

    1. Hi Judy,

      Since the State Department maintains the passport records from 1932, only they will be able to confirm whether or not a photograph exists with the passport. You can contact them via telephone at 202-955-0447.

      Good luck!
      Meredith (admin)

  6. Trying to locate green card registration in late 1920’s to early 1930’s. My Mom imigrated from Ireland did not become a citizen. I remember as a child going to the P.O. each year so she could re-register. Any ideas? Peggy

  7. Searching for green card information during 1920’s early 1930’s Mom was an imigrant from Ireland and had to register each year at P.O. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Peggy,

      The U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Genealogy Program may have records about your Mom. For an overview of USCIS records, visit their website and review the “Historical Records Series” section. USCIS records are subject to privacy restrictions. You will begin your search by submitting a request for an index search and all applicable fees.

      There may be additional sources, but USCIS should be pretty comprehensive so you should find everything.

      – Katherine

  8. Hello! I am curious, are the original applications available for view for visitors to the Archives? …or only the microfilm? I have downloaded a copy of a passport but the photo is very dark — if I could view the original I might plan a trip to DC. Thank you.

    1. Hi John,

      The original passport applications are out in our College Park, MD facility. I would contact them directly and see if they can pull the records. Their email is If they can’t pull the records, you can have a good copy made from the original photo. The staff at that same email will tell you how to submit your request.

      – Katherine

  9. I paid $320.00 to the US Dept. of State to expedite and to do a file search for an old passport as I have misplaced/lost some very important documents. I was issued a passport on Oct. 2, 1975 as a child (I was around 15) then. But the US Dept. of State search their file and could not find a passport for me! I was issued this passport at the same time that my mother and brother. They told me that a manual search had to be done. How long does it take to do a manual search with the US Dept of State and why could they not find a record of my old passport from 1975? It expired in 1980. Thank you. I am needing to apply for a passport so that I can get a CA drivers license since I have misplaced all of my documents and it takes too long to get naturalization replacement through the USCIS.

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