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Passport Applications & Licences (Including Scotland)

Nature of Source

Records of those who applied for a passport. The document was not compulsory for overseas travel until 1915 with modern day passports beginning life in 1920. Many were issued before this as proof of identity and as protection mainly to merchants and diplomats.

Passports were not needed for countries within the Empire up to 1948. Before the introduction of passports, a person was issued with a ‘Licence to pass beyond the seas’ and these can be found in entry books of passes at TNA in series E 157. Earlier passports from the 15th century until the 17th century were issued by the monarch and are known as ‘Safe Conducts’. Until this point a sheet of paper was issued with the destination shown. Up to 1858 a person of any nationality could apply for a British passport from the Foreign Office. Similarly any British person could apply for a French passport issued by the French authorities if travelling to France. After 1858 only British nationals were eligible to possess a British passport. It was not until 1947 that birth certificates were required for new applicants to prove British nationality. Records exist of other passports, details of which are in the TNA Research Guide.

In Scotland, passports issued before the eighteenth century are included in published sources such as the Register of the Privy Seal, the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland and the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland. They might also be found with Burgh records if the individual came from a town.

Where Found

The National Archives (FO 610, Chief Clerk's Department and Passport Office: Passport Registers, 1795-1948. This series contains registers of passports issued, showing the intended destination of the applicant; FO 611, Passport Registers Indexes of Names, 1851-1916. Records within series FO 611 are available to download from The National Archives' catalogue free of charge as part of the Digital Microfilm project or available to view online with the image viewer. The indexes to names of passport holders for all of 1857 and 1858 [A-G] are missing and for 1863 to 1873; E 157, Registers of Licences to Pass Beyond the Seas, 1573-1677)
For a full summary of available records see the TNA Research Guide Passports.
A number of digitised records from these series are available at Findmypast. See below for more details

National Records of Scotland (Some deposited passports. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])

Period Covered

1795 - 1948

Genealogical Value

Full name, occupation and description of holder, passport number, date of issue and place of travel which may be vague.

Further References

Goldfarb, Phil. A Page of History: Passport Applications 1851-1914: Tate Publishing, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Goldfarb, Phil. A Page of History Volume II Passport Applications 1915-1925: Tate Publishing, 2015  Buy Now on Amazon

Kershaw, Roger & Pearsall Mark. Immigrants and Aliens: A Guide to Sources on UK Immigration and Citizenship: The National Archives, 2004


Lloyd, Martin. The Passport: The History of Man's Most Travelled Document: Sutton Publishing, 2003


Torpey, John. The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State: Cambridge University Press, 2000


Websites (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a passport) (CyndisList links: Passports) (Identity and Passport Service: Passport history timeline) (Treasures of the SoG: Passports) (TNA Your Archives Guide: Passports) (Guide to Passport Applications) (The Scottish Archive Network Research: Passports) (The Scottish Archive Network Knowledge Base: Passports)

Online Databases (Index to Register of Passport Applications, 1851-1903. Discover if your ancestors applied for a passport during the second half of the 19th century covering the years 1851-1856, 1858-1862 and 1874-1903. The records are extracted from TNA series FO 610 and FO 611. Please note that there are no indexes at all for 1857 or for 1863 to 1873. The indexes for 1858 are missing the entries for A-G) (Britain, Registers of Licences To Pass Beyond The Seas 1573-1677. The collection is comprised of over 27,000 searchable transcripts detailing early travellers who left Britain for Ireland, continental Europe, New England, Barbados, Bermuda and other overseas colonies, extracted from TNA series E 157) (UK passport applications, 1851-1903)