Find your ancestors in United States passport applications

What can these records tell me?

This collection of regular passport applications has been compiled from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) collection M1490. Each record will provide a transcript and image of the original documents. Transcripts will provide you with the following fields:

  • First name(s)
  • Last name
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Birth year
  • Birth place
  • Year
  • Spouse’s first name(s)
  • Spouse’s last name
  • State
  • Country
  • Certificate number
  • NARA collection
  • NARA publication number
  • Roll number

In looking at the images, you can learn the details of their citizenship: when and from where they immigrated, by what means they arrived in the United States, and when they were naturalized. For those born in the United States, you may learn details of their fathers’ naturalization: full name, birthplace, and date and place of emigration. Additional details were also recorded such as physical descriptions, which provides details regarding an applicant’s eye color, mouth, nose, forehead, chin, complexion, face, and hair color. For instance, we learn that Niels Nielsen was 'full bearded' and his nose was 'rather prominent'.

Earlier passport applications, from 1795 for example, would contain fewer details. However, they would still include name, age, and physical description.

Most applications are one to two pages in length and, starting on 21 December 1914, photographs were required with applications and can be viewed on the second page. Be sure to use the previous and next buttons in the image viewer to see all the relevant images for your ancestor.

Discover more about these records

Until the middle of the 20th century, passports were not been required for US citizens leaving the country. However, there were periods when passports were either required or recommended, often coinciding with the outbreak of war:

  • August 1861 to 17 March 1862 - required for all travel (Civil War)
  • 15 December 1915 – President Wilson issued Executive Order 2285, which recommended that anyone leaving the country obtain a passport
  • 22 May 1918 to 1921 - required for all travel (First World War)
  • 21 June 1941 to 1945 - required for all travel (Second World War)

Other countries may have required passports. A passport was useful means of protection for those traveling in foreign lands as it proved citizenship. This was particularly appealing for naturalized citizens who were concerned with complications arising from visiting their country of origin. Some countries would go so far as to enlist such individuals who were visiting their home country.

NARA publication M1490 **Passport Applications, 1906-March 31, 1925** covers 2 January 1906 to 31 March 1925.