As you build your family tree, you'll want to take advantage of every available resource to flesh out your knowledge about your ancestors. One that's very helpful, but often overlooked, is the passport application. This document is particularly valuable for those tracing an ancestor who immigrated to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen.
Passport Applications and Your Family Tree
A copy of an ancestor's passport application may help you fill in some blanks in your family tree and provide direction for further research. These documents contain valuable data as well as personal details about your ancestor.
Although passports weren't generally required for U.S. citizens traveling abroad until 1941, the Department of State began issuing them in 1789. The earliest passports contained only the applicant's name, age and a physical description, but later ones required more information. In general, these documents may include:
- Place of birth and residence
- Date of birth
- Physical description
- Foreign travel destination
- Immigration and naturalization information if foreign-born, such as ship name and arrival date
- Names of spouse and children if traveling with family
In addition, photographs have been required with passport applications since Dec. 21, 1914.
How to Request a Copy of a Passport Application
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has passport applications from October 1795 through March 1925. Those from April 1925 to the present are housed at the U.S. Department of State.
Both agencies require you to submit a request along with certain information. Then, if the requested record can be located, you will receive an order form for ordering copies.
These must include your name and mailing address, plus the passport applicant's name, year of birth, place of residence at the time the application was made and the approximate year of travel. The year of birth and place of residence help to distinguish between people with the same name. You can submit requests either by mail or email. Send email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail your request to:
Attn: Archives I Research Support Branch (NWCC1)
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
Department of State Requests
These must include the same passport applicant information required by NARA, plus:
- Your full name at birth and any subsequent name changes
- Your date and place of birth
- Your current mailing address
- Your current daytime telephone number
- Your current email address, if applicable
- Your reason for the request
- A copy of your valid photo identification
Requests for copies of an ancestor's passport application are considered third-party requests. Unless the passport applicant was born 100 years ago or more, your request must also include one of the following:
- Notarized consent from the owner of the passport records
- Proof of guardianship
- Death certificate
- Court order signed by a judge of competent jurisdiction requesting the Department of State to release passport records
You'll need to pay a $60 search fee for each third-party request. Make checks or money orders payable to "Department of State." Requests must be made by mail. Send them to:
U.S. Department of State Research & Liaison Branch
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20522-1705
What You Should Know
The passport application records you receive will not include evidence of travel or residency such as entrance and exit stamps, visas or residence permits. This information is entered into the passport book after it is issued.
Obtaining copies of your ancestors' passport applications takes a little effort, but can yield big payoffs in growing your family tree and gaining insight into the life of your ancestor.