Why can't I find my grandmother's passport?

First and foremost, she may not have had one: although available, U.S. passports were not required until World War I, and those who did apply before then were predominantly men. It is no secret that in earlier time periods, men appeared most often in official records. Women and children were in large measure subordinate to men in the household, be it husbands, fathers, sons, or brothers. This applied to many facets of life, including travel. According to the National Archives, approximately " 95 percent of mid-19th century passport applicants were men, many women also traveled overseas," but for men and women traveling together, passports were issued to the men on behalf of the entire traveling party. If you are unable to find record of your female ancestor traveling abroad, you may wish to search for passports of men in your family.

And while that slender five-percent margin of women applicants were women, perhaps women traveling alone, even the well-established Margaret T. Brown, also known as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, one of the more famous survivors of the Titanic, had no passport when she boarded that fateful ship in April 1912, which suggests a passport was not required, as she was not traveling with her husband. Molly did not obtain a passport until 1920. On the second page of her 1920 passport application, in reference to previous passports, Molly responds, "never had one." Molly was legally separated from her husband in 1909, but even in 1920 her husband's name is given and he is referenced in the affidavit supporting her application. Molly's passport provides an example of the kind of detail one might find in passport applications.

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