“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 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.