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Passports, travel and genealogy

This year has involved me working hard on my Master's dissertation, which has now been submitted and is awaiting grading. Fingers crossed.


The topic I chose for research was passports, and I thought I'd just share a few thoughts on why passport records can be a goldmine of information for anyone researching their family history.

Before 1915, it was not a legal requirement to have a passport to leave or enter the United Kingdom. Most travellers - especially those going abroad permanently or going to other parts of the Empire - didn't bother with the expense. Passports in England and Wales were issued by the Home Secretary, but due to the different legal systems in Scotland, things were different north of the border. In Scotland, the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow issued passports to Scottish travellers.


The Lord Provost passport collections for Edinburgh were recently digitised, and are available on Ancestry. The Glasgow records are only available in chunky volumes like the one in the picture, from the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. The registers contain the names and details of people who applied for passports from the mid-19th century, through to 1915.


So why are these good for family history? Well, there's lots of very interesting lines of research in these registers if you find a family member. Often an address is given, an occupation, or employer. If you find multiple entries for the same person, you know they were a frequent flyer, so to speak. However, there are other benefits which might help you develop a fuller picture of your ancestor.


  1. Friendship links - often, people travelling together would apply for passports together. This lets you link unrelated people travelling as a party. Groups of friends, two medical students going to France for the summer, a group of academics all on the same passport list for the Continent. It's usually fairly straightforward to make family links in genealogy, but that's not the case with friendships and passport lists can provide new avenues to follow.

  2. Workplace links - especially in the Glasgow records, there are huge numbers of people travelling together as part of a group of plumbers, gas fitters or engineers. Sometimes, their employer is stated, giving you another lead for research. Alternatively, you have the names of lots of their colleagues to start researching.

Or if it all sounds too difficult, let the professionals do it for you. Get in touch and i'd be delighted to help.

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