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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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As you research your recent immigrants, consider whether they would have:

  • applied for a U.S. passport
  • registered for the draft in World War I
  • registered for a Social Security number.

These three key documents may provide the specific place name you are seeking. Because they also may include immigrants who arrived as a wife, or children, and may not therefore be on a naturalization record, they serve as useful complements to those records.


Passports are documents, issued by the U.S. State Department, attesting to an individual's citizenship in the United States. They are issued when citizens travel abroad (not counting Canada, for which passports have never been required) for identification, and as a measure of protection.

Certainly not every U.S. citizen has had a passport. In fact, the actual percentage of citizens with passports, especially historically, is quite small. Individuals only apply for a passport when they plan to travel overseas. They were not even required by U.S. law until 1914.

However, a much higher percentage of naturalized citizens travel overseas then do native-born citizens. This is, of course, due to the fact that most immigrants still had family in the old country, and many wished to visit their relatives -- especially after having achieved some success in America. In preparation for such visits, these former immigrants, now citizens, would apply for a passport. By 1930, the State Department had issued more than 2.5 million passports.

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