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Family Tree Friday: Passport Applications Revisited

by on August 13, 2010


A while back, I talked about passport applications. These are some of my favorite records, so I thought I’d examine a typical application in detail, to show you what type of information you can find.

On January 6, 1923, Sidney van Slaars’ passport application (#241469) was approved. Sidney was born in New York City “on or about” February 23, 1899, so he was about 23 years old. His travel plans included Madeira, Gibraltar, Algeria, Greece, Constantinople, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, France and the British Isles. The purpose of his trip was just to travel – this was a trip in the tradition of the Grand Tour, and one that most people would love to take!

Aside from his birth date and his travel plans, we can learn a great deal about Sidney from this record. His personal description tells us that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with brown eyes and brown hair. It also tells us that he had a medium forehead, a straight nose, a medium mouth and an oval face – this was early facial recognition. He lived in New York City at 537 West 149 Street, and was a Secretary/Stenographer. He indicates that he lived in Paris from 1911 to 1913. I wasn’t able to find a passport application from this earlier trip, but they weren’t required at the time, so this is not unusual.

1923 assport Application of Sidney van Slaars

1923 Passport Application of Sidney van Slaars

We can also learn a lot about Sidney’s father. His name is not mentioned, but he was born in Smyrna and immigrated to the U.S. in October 1895. He was naturalized in New York City, where he also lived. At the date of Sidney’s passport application, his father was traveling.

One of the most interesting things in Sidney’s application is the documentation he submitted for proof of his birth. He requested a copy of his birth certificate from the New York City Department of Health. The Department was unable to find a record, and returned a document indicating that. Sidney included this document along with an affidavit from a relative testifying to his birth. Because official birth records were not always available, these affidavits were quite common. They were filled out by someone who was present at the birth, usually a relative or a close family friend. In Sidney’s case, his mother filled out the affidavit.

We found all of the above using a single document – Sidney’s passport application. One of the reasons that I like these records so much is because of the volume of information they can provide. They are a fabulous resource for genealogists.

The passport applications are available on microfilm as well as online through Ancestry and Footnote (partial).


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