Border crossing records can give you many valuable details about things like occupations and other family members. And passports typically include a wealth of information, including immigration and naturalization details; many records even include photographs.
I had found Aunt Hilma in Barry County, Michigan, in the 1900 census. And I found her again in the 1910 census, this time in Kalamazoo, single, working as a nurse. But when I went to the 1920 census, she wasn’t there. Her future husband, Art Lynch, was, but without Hilma. So where was she? I found the answer – and a hidden chapter of her life – in her passport.
Connect with other people searching for their immigration story on our Immigration and Emigration message board.
A spelling variation doesn’t mean you’ve found the wrong person: immigrants often Americanized their names either before or after naturalizing. Some indexes note alternate names, too, so look carefully.
While you won’t learn your ancestor’s eye color here, these details will help you request the record from an archive.
Where your ancestor’s naturalization took place — key in locating the original naturalization file.
Add these details to your searches at Ancestry.com to help you locate your ancestors in other record collections. Also, your ancestors may have belonged to a group, lodge or church in their U.S. town associated with their homeland or nationality.
Naturalization indexes typically include the date of naturalization, and will sometimes also include date of birth and the date the immigrant arrived in the U.S.
Invaluable in locating a passenger list, but remember that an ancestor may have traveled to and from America more than once, so look at all possibilities.
Friends, neighbors, cousins, coworkers, in-laws and other acquaintances may have witnessed your ancestor’s naturalization. Research these names to see if they’re related in some way or share ties to a church, neighborhood or occupation; also try these names when you can’t find your own ancestor in the census — they could be living nearby.
“I found Aunt Hilma in the same place I first found my grandfather’s family: Barry County, Michigan, in the 1900 census. I found her again in the 1910 census, in Kalamazoo, single, working as a nurse. But when I went to the 1920 census and tried Kalamazoo, she wasn’t there. Her future husband, Art Lynch, was. But no Aunt Hilma. Where was she?
I found my answer in a passport application at Ancestry.com by searching for only the name Hilma born 1887 in Illinois. There she was as Hilma Anderson Cornett, complete with the story I was seeking.
Hilma had married James Cornett, an Irish immigrant, who died shortly after their marriage. In May 1916, she applied for a passport to go to Ireland to visit James’ family and settle his estate. Hilma couldn’t find safe passage home during World War I, and her passport lapsed.
In 1919, Hilma reapplied for a passport from the American Consulate in Belfast. Her application included the date and place of her marriage to James: 15 April 1915, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I also found a ship record for her return to America aboard the S.S. Baltic, arriving on 10 April 1920 — after the census date in January.”
— Lori Anderson Semashko
Emergency passports are somewhat different from traditional passports. First, they were issued to U.S. citizens who were overseas. Second, they were issued only under exceptional circumstances.
But what defined “exceptional”? An emergency passport may have been issued to a traveling American who lost his or her passport abroad. Or when an American male working out of the country needed proof-of-residence to avoid local conscription. Emergency passports were also issued to foreign-born women living overseas who married U.S. citizens and to the woman’s children until they could reach American soil.
Emergency passports were valid for a short period of time – usually just one year – so it’s not uncommon to find a person applying for an emergency passport again and again, especially during war years. You’ll find emergency passports as well as the traditional variety in the U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 collection at Ancestry.com.
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