Passport Applications for Genealogy: A Birth Mom’s Life

Using passport applications in genealogy can lead to family history discoveries! See how this intrepid researcher tracked down passport applications that weren’t online. And then see what he learned about the life of a birth mother after she gave up her child in the 1920s.

A longtime Genealogy Gems Podcast listener named Tom wrote in a while back, asking about finding U.S. passport applications for the 1930s. He was trying to learn more about the life of his wife’s biological grandmother. What happened after she surrendered her child? Tom could tell from other sources that she traveled the world. But big databases of passport applications online only go through 1925. He wanted to find any passport applications she filed in later years.

We directed him to the US State Department webpage for ordering copies of passport records issued after 1925, for which you need to do a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Tom recently reported back to us with the full story….

Using passport applications for genealogy: Finally—success!

“Finally got copies of the passport application request I made to the Department of State in April of 2016. Took all this time plus a nudge from my Congressional office to make it happen!

My wife’s mother, Bonnie Jean Head, was adopted into the Frank Mathews family in 1927 when Bonnie was about 19 months old. We have the court adoption papers from the White Pine County Superior Court issued in 1927. The court documents included an affidavit signed by Kathleen Head affirming she was the biological mother and that she relinquishes any and all parental rights to Bonnie Jean. And that the father was unknown.

Doing an Ancestry.com search on Kathleen Head resulted in many documents including ship manifests that seem to show Kathleen (who never married) and her roommate (who never married) were crew members on a number of ocean liners in the early 1930s. They also traveled together to South America and we found their passport photos [from before the 1930s] on Ancestry.com.

I sent a FOIA request to the Dept of State for copies of their original passport applications according to the State Department’s on-line instructions (I had their passport numbers from [earlier applications]). That was in April 2016. Hearing nothing by September-ish 2016, I stopped into my Congressional Representative’s local office and asked them if they may have a better contact source than was posted on the website. They, in turn, sent an official Congressional inquiry to the State Department, which resulted in a contact from them and a note saying they had boxes of applications to search, which might take up to six weeks.

Twelve months later, October 2017, I got the copies of Kathleen Head’s passport applications. The records were very informative and included physical, mental and family information as well as a current photo. She was a single, white woman about 41 years old traveling from Yokohama, Japan to the US on a Japanese-flagged ocean liner in 1935. (Brave or very lucky woman at that time just before Japan’s invasion of China and start of WWII.) She died at age 83 in Long Beach, CA. She and her roommate of forty plus years were school teachers in the Long Beach area.”

I admire Tom’s tenacity! It’s a good reminder that a lack of response doesn’t necessarily mean “no”, and it also doesn’t mean there isn’t another avenue that can be taken. It’s brilliant that he turned to his Congressional office for help. It’s a strategy the rest of us can keep in mind when making difficult Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. (Click here to learn more about the FOIA.)

Click through the images below to take a closer look at the copy of Kathleen’s passport applications and renewal from the State Department, which Tom kindly sent in. These documents are bursting with valuable genealogical information. They even include an affidavit attesting to Kathleen’s birth information, signed by a cousin, who provided her own name and address. The passport applications themselves, along with the other documents themselves, sketch a story of her lifelong companionship and work that took her around the world during the years before World War II. Many thanks to Tom for allowing us to share your story.

Learn even more about passport applications for genealogy

Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members can learn even more about U.S. passport applications in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #124. Phil Goldfarb, author of A Page of History: Passport Applicationsshares the history of passports, why you should look for renewal applications periodically and strategies for using them. (Guess what? Premium eLearning membership recently got even better! Click here to learn more.)

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Major Pro Bono DNA Testing Initiative for Adoptees

MyHeritage Launches DNA Quest:

A Major Pro Bono Initiative for Adoptees and Their Biological Families to Find Each Other via DNA Testing

MyHeritage will distribute 15,000 DNA kits, worth over one million dollars, for free in the first phase of this initiative. Here’s the scoop:

TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah–(BUSINESS WIRE)–MyHeritage, the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing, announced today the launch of a new pro bono initiative, DNA Quest, to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through genetic testing. As part of this initiative, MyHeritage will provide 15,000 MyHeritage DNA kits, worth more than one million dollars, for free, with free shipping, to eligible participants. Participation is open to adoptees seeking to find their biological family members, and to anyone looking for a family member who was placed for adoption. Preference will be given to people who are not able to afford genetic testing. The first phase of the initiative is open to USA residents, involving adoptions that took place in the USA. Application opens today on the project website, www.dnaquest.org, which includes detailed information about the initiative.

Introducing DNAQuest,org A Pro Bono Initiative for Adoptees and their Biological Families to reunite via DNA Testing – Tweet this

Many of the approximately 7 million adoptees living in the USA today are searching for their biological parents or siblings. The search is time-sensitive, because every year some of the people who are searching pass away, missing the opportunity to reunite. Currently, the main avenues for adoptees and their biological parents to find each other are adoption agencies, registries created for this purpose, and genetic testing. With formal adoption records being unavailable or difficult to obtain in most states, genetic genealogy opens new doors in the search for relatives, and MyHeritage believes everyone should be able to access this valuable technology.

To maximize the potential of this initiative to successfully reunite families, MyHeritage has set up an advisory board of top experts in the fields of genetic genealogy and adoption to guide and support this initiative on a voluntary basis. This alliance ensures the best possible professional support for participants, with each advisory board member bringing unique expertise. The advisory board includes: CeCe Moore, founder of The DNA Detectives; Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist; Richard Weiss of DNA Adoption; Richard Hill, DNA Testing Adviser; Katharine Wall, founder of Adopted.com; Brianne Kirkpatrick, founder of Watershed DNA; Pamela Slaton, investigative genealogist; Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek; and Susan Friel-Williams, Vice President, American Adoption Congress.

DNA Quest is an expansion to the USA of another one of MyHeritage’s successful pro bono projects to reunite adoptees from the Israeli Yemenite community with their biological families. In that project, MyHeritage facilitated successful reunions between adoptees and their biological siblings, solving challenging cases where the protagonists were searching for each other without success for more than 60 years.

“We have a company culture of using our resources and technology for the greater good. In this spirit we’ve initiated several significant pro bono projects, such as returning looted assets from WWII to their rightful owners and documenting family histories and traditions of tribal peoples who lack access to modern technology. DNA Quest is a natural extension of these efforts,” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, who conceived DNA Quest. “There is a great need for a project like this — to help adoptees find their biological families — and we are the right company to take it on. We’ve already successfully reunited many families and are confident that through this initiative, together with a wonderful alliance of top experts, we’ll be able to utilize the power of genetic genealogy to help many more.”

“Few things are more fulfilling than a life-changing adoptee-family reunion”, said CeCe Moore, founder of DNA Detectives, the largest group on Facebook that brings together volunteers with genetic genealogy and searching experience, and those seeking biological family. “I’m very excited to be a member of the DNA Quest advisory board and look forward to assisting participants in finding the lost loved ones for whom they are yearning.”

There are already more than 1.25 million people in the MyHeritage DNA database — one of the fastest growing among the major DNA companies. Additionally, MyHeritage is unique among the top three DNA companies to offer the option to upload DNA results from other test providers, and this is available for free. The company is uniquely positioned to reunite families and has indeed facilitated many emotional success stories, with more taking place in every passing day.

Adoptees and family members searching for their biological relatives can apply for a free MyHeritage DNA kit at DNAQuest.org through April 30, 2018. Participants will be selected, and their free DNA kits will be shipped to them by the end of May 2018. Results are expected as early as July 2018.

Those who have already taken a DNA test with another company can upload their DNA data to MyHeritage for free and participate in this initiative as well.

The privacy of all applicants and participants will be strictly enforced. The DNA is owned by the participants and not by MyHeritage. The company has never sold genetic data and has pledged to never do so in the future without users’ explicit consent. DNA Quest is a pro bono project without gotchas or caveats.

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing. As technology thought leaders, MyHeritage has transformed family history into an activity that is accessible and instantly rewarding. Its global user community enjoys access to a massive database of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees and groundbreaking search and matching technologies. Launched in November 2016, MyHeritage DNA is a technologically advanced, affordable DNA test that reveals ethnic origins and previously unknown relatives. Trusted by millions of families, MyHeritage provides an easy way to find new family members, discover ethnic origins, and to treasure family stories, past and present, for generations to come. MyHeritage is available in 42 languages. For more detail, visit www.myheritage.com. DNA Quest is available on www.dnaquest.org.

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Mayflower Ancestors and More in New Genealogy Records Online

Discover your Mayflower ancestors–or more about your family history from around the world–in new and updated genealogy records online. Among them are the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for WWI and various records for Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and Venezuela. Also: all Missouri adoptees may now order original birth certificates.

United States: Discover Your Mayflower Ancestors

In anticipation of the 2020 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (aka AmericanAncestors.org) has launched a new website, Mayflower 2020. This interactive website features the world’s first online gathering of Mayflower descendants, along with in-depth information about Mayflower passengers and their family trees, resources for finding Mayflower ancestors, and information on “Mayflower 2020” announcements and events.

The National Library of Wales has published online the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for the First World War. According to the NLW website, the book “contains the names of 35,000 servicemen and women, as well as members of Welsh Regiments, who lost their lives in the First World War. These individuals are listed according to regiment and battalion alongside the names of those who might well have died alongside them.” The original gilded volume contains about 1,100 pages of names, with about 40 names scripted in calligraphy on each page. The commemorative book was created as a “roll of honor” and companion to the Welsh National War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff, which doesn’t include names of the deceased on it. Search or browse the gorgeous volume at the National Library of Wales digital archive.

U.S. state-level genealogy collections

Indiana. Over a million records appear in MyHeritage’s new collection, Indiana Newspapers, 1847-2009. According to MyHeritage, “This collection is a compendium of newspapers published in various cities and towns in the state of Indiana from the 1840s until 2009. Newspapers are an important resource for genealogy and family history research as they contain obituaries and other vital record substitutes such as birth, marriage, and death notices. Additionally, society pages and stories of local interest contain rich information on activities and events in the community and often provide details about the persons involved.”

Massachusetts. New at AmericanAncestors.org is Suffolk County, MA: Probate File Papers, with nearly 22,000 Suffolk County probate cases (1630-1800). According to the site, “The probate cases include wills, guardianships, administrations, and various other types of probate records. The complete Suffolk County File Papers collection will eventually cover cases 1-94,757, which includes all years through 1892. The cases are indexed chronologically, which allows us to present them in sections while digital photography occurs. Photography is expected to continue through 2020. We will add cases as they become available.”

Missouri. A new Missouri law, the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, now gives all adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees born prior to 1941 were already eligible to request copies of their original birth certificates as of mid-2016. On January 1, 2018, this right was extended to adoptees born in or after 1941. According to a local news report, the state representative behind the new law, Don Phillips, is himself an adoptee and was among the first to receive a copy of his own certificate when the new rules went into effect recently. If you would like to order a non-certified copy of an original birth certificate from the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records, click here to fill out the online application.

Montana. Ancestry.com has published Montana Birth Records, 1897-1919. The collection includes birth certificates that typically include the following information: name, gender and race of child; date and place of birth; and parents’ names, ages and birthplaces.

Free on FamilySearch: More global genealogical records

FamilySearch is always free, so take a quick peek at the newly-indexed names added to the following collections. Maybe your ancestors’ names have finally appeared!

Ireland. Look up your Irish ancestors in Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913. More than 653,000 names have been added.

New Zealand. Nearly a million indexed names have been added to New Zealand, Civil Records Indexes, 1800-1966. Search this index to official government records of births, marriages and deaths. Tip: see the collection description for important information about ordering copies of original records.

Sweden. Over 36 million indexed names have been added to a mammoth collection of digitized record images in Sweden, Household Examination Books, 1880 – 1920.  Other Sweden collections have been updated at FamilySearch, as well: Sweden, Göteborg och Bohus Church Records, 1577-1932; index 1659-1860, Sweden, Kopparberg Church Records, 1604-1900; index 1628-1860 and Sweden, Västernorrland Church Records, 1501-1940; index 1650-1860.

Venezuela. Nearly 800,000 indexed names have been added to Venezuela, Archdiocese of Mérida, Catholic Church Records, 1654-2015. These parish or diocesan records include “baptisms, confirmations, parish censuses, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, marriage dispensations, deaths, and indexes.”

Get the most out of FamilySearch.org

Of all the “Genealogy Giants” we cover in-depth here at Genealogy Gems, FamilySearch is the only one that’s totally free. It’s also an enormous site with multiple places to search for your ancestors’ names in old records and even additional resources for finding offsite or even offline records you want. So it’s worth a little investment to learn how to use FamilySearch effectively. For that, we recommend Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org by Dana McCullough. In it, you’ll find step-by-step strategies for searching their millions of historical records and family trees, and how to maximize all the site’s valuable resources.

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast. She’s especially known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her latest favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Sunny is also a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine and the NGS-award-winning Co-Editor of Ohio Genealogy News.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Adoptee DNA Test Leads to Emotional Mother-Daughter Reunion

Years after a 15-year old mother put her baby girl up for adoption, the two reunited after both tested with MyHeritage DNA. See how an adoptee DNA test led to a sweet reunion.

Moms come in all shapes and sizes, and all have different stories. Sometimes, those stories include great self-sacrifice that ensures the best future possible for a child. That’s the case with this story that I want to share with you today. It’s a very special mother-daughter reunion which was covered recently by ABC15 in Mesa, Arizona.

As a 15-year-old, Robin Passey made the brave decision to put her baby daughter up for adoption to a loving family. Even though she knew it was in her child’s best interest, the decision understandably left a longing in her heart. Like many adoptive moms, Robin wondered how her daughter was doing, what she looked like, and if she was happy. That longing was filled thanks to the latest genetic genealogy technology available. Through a bit of genealogical serendipity, Robin and her biological daughter Becky both tested with MyHeritage DNA, and started a new chapter in their lives.

Watch their story and happy reunion:

More and more stories like theirs are appearing in news outlets, on blogs and in social media posts around the world. I find it deeply moving that who we are genetically–how we are connected–is literally encoded within us on such a fundamental biological level.

Learn more about MyHeritage DNA here at their website. 

We can help you with your own DNA testing journey, whether you’re an adoptee or just looking to learn more about your family. Start with these essential posts:

Getting Started with DNA Testing

DNA Testing for Adoptees: 5 Must-Read Tips by Genetic Genealogy Experts

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Searching for Biological Roots

DNA testing for adoptees (and others with unknown parentage) isn’t a last resort–use it along with other strategies to discover biological roots. Genetic genealogists CeCe Moore and Diahan Southard share five tips for getting started.

DNA testing for adoptees

Not long ago, I chatted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of The DNA Detectives about using DNA testing for adoptees. Here I summarize some tips she shared, along with some perspectives of my own and resources that can help your search for biological relatives.

Click here to listen to our chat:

DNA testing for adoptees: 5 tips

1. Start with available records. A lot of people of people are coming straight to DNA testing now without looking at any available records first. Adoptees should start by looking at state laws and seeing if they can get access to original birth certificates. Click here to read about access to adoption records (U.S.).

2. Take an autosomal DNA test. This test looks at both sides of a person’s biological family, mom and dad. Most people start by testing at AncestryDNA because it has the largest database of potential matches (over 4 million now!). If you don’t find a close match (at least a second cousin),  you will want to transfer to both Family Tree DNA and and MyHeritage for FREE to expand your search radius. Males with unknown paternity should also take a YDNA test (at least at the 37-marker level) from Family Tree DNA.

3. Do your own adoption search. Sure, you can hire someone to help. But you should be invested in your own search when possible. You’ll likely get a much greater satisfaction out of it.

As with any kind of search you are doing for people who may still be living, proceed with care and try to keep your search as private as possible. Try first to contact the people hwo are most likely to know about you already, including your parents and grandparents. If you do discover a biological family buy ed medication member who may not know about you, please carefully consider the impact you may have on their lives by revealing information you have learned.

4. Become educated. Learn all the strategies you can for researching your biological roots. Read and read! Keep learning! The DNA Detectives Facebook group is about self-education, with members helping members work their own cases without a professional having to work each one. (You can also check out The DNA Detectives website.)

5. Keep your expectations flexible. CeCe Moore says, “The end result of an adoption search is positive most of the time. There are some stories where contact has been rejected by a birth relative, but they are in the minority. A positive outcome doesn’t necessarily mean a connection or loving relationship with a birth parent, but perhaps with a birth sibling or cousin.”

Finally, I want to share this powerful statement from CeCe Moore on adoptee rights:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 178

“I believe everyone has an equal right to learn about their heritage. There’s a whole class of people denied the joyful experience of building their biological family trees. Everyone deserves that knowledge. That doesn’t mean the birth family has to have a relationship. There’s a difference between knowing your heritage and having a relationship with the birth family. The adoptee deserves the knowledge of their origins.

But you can’t legislate a person to have a relationship with another person!”

Get the most from your DNA testing experience with my series of DNA quick guides! Topics include

BEST VALUE: You get a serious discount–and my “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy video class–when you grab the whole bundle!

Adoption Research Success: “I Continued His Quest to Find His Birth Mother:”

Searching for birth parents? This adoption research success story involved several proven techniques: mapping DNA matches, research legwork–and years of patient determination.

Adoption Research Inspiration

This inspiring letter about adoption research came to me from Liz:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your part in a major milestone of my genealogy research! You motivated me, educated me, and shared many wonderful resources throughout hours and hours of your podcasts. After listening to you talk with Diahan Southard a few times, it finally dawned on me that I should contact her to help me better understand DNA and its impact on my research.

Here’s the “story” as it unfolded for me.

During much of the last 30+ years my brother-in-law, Chuck, searched constantly for his birth mother. Chuck maintained hope that information he requested from the state of Michigan or newly available electronic adoption records might give him enough clues to help him find his mother. Six or seven years ago, Chuck was disabled by a stroke and a few years following the stroke vascular dementia robbed him of his ability to continue the search for his mother. In January 2015, we were able to get Chuck (despite the dementia) to spit in the test tube and provide a DNA sample. Little did we know he would be dead by Thanksgiving. As I wrote Chuck’s obituary, I realized I could offer one other piece of assistance to Chuck’s widow and children. I offered to continue his quest to find his birth mother.”

Then Liz outlined the steps she took to carry on the search:

“After gathering the limited detail we had (birth date, location, possible mother’s name and age) I began my research in earnest. Ultimately I:

  • created a “proposed” family tree for Chuck based on Chuck’s birth mother’s surname and his birth location,
  • reviewed Chuck’s DNA matches and
  • began to narrow down the family tree.

I used Diahan Southard’s website tutorials as the foundation for my analysis, put together a PowerPoint presentation with my research and theory and presented the information to her in a video conference. She found no fault in my logic and helped me plan my next steps: the search for Chuck’s birth father.”

Eventually, the paper trail and the genetic research came together to tell a story:

“Last week my niece finally received the adoption records from the state of Michigan, eighty-six years after Chuck was born, over twenty years after Chuck first requested them and almost a year after his daughter requested the records. I am impatiently awaiting my copy! What I do know so far:

  • Postcard of Harper Hospital, MI, posted on RootsWeb (click to view).

    My research (thanks to you and Diahan and DNA) accurately determined the identity of Chuck’s mother.

  • She had a very difficult young life and died of TB—tuberculosis – when she was just 25 years old in 1939.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant with Chuck while a ward of the state and an Inmate at a girls school.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant during a time when the school “farmed out” Inmates to Harper Hospital to work as nurses’ aides.
  • Both Chuck’s mother and her sister checked on Chuck after turning him over to the state, both in an attempt to get him back and to learn how he was doing.

It was heartwarming to learn that Chuck actually had a birth family who cared about him! I wish he had known!”

WOW, what an incredible story! Congratulations to Liz on such thorough and persistent research. I feel very sure that Chuck knows that not only did he have a birth family that cared, but also a wonderful sister-in-law (although I would guess he well aware of that even before he passed.)

I’m also thrilled that Genealogy Gems was able to play some part in Chuck and Liz’s story.

Get Ready for Adoption Research Success

Are you looking for someone’s birth parents? Get started with the DNA strategies Liz used:

  • Take a DNA test from a company such as AncestryDNA, which has an enormous database of testers and family trees. Click here to learn more about your DNA testing options.
  • Map your DNA test results using Google Earth and/or, if you test with AncestryDNA, the site’s tool within an individual DNA match view for identifying locations you have in common on your tree. Click here to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free full-length video class on using Google Earth for genealogy.
  • Share your DNA results on other websites (such as Gedmatch) to increase your chances of finding matches.

To access Diahan’s great video tutorials on her site that Liz used, click here— as a Genealogy Gems reader you’ll get a great discount on them.

Along with DNA evidence, create the best paper trail possible, as Liz did. Scour all available records and follow up on all possible leads for any information about the birth parents. In this instance, Liz needed to rely on records created by or about institutions, such as the hospital and state girls’ school. Genealogy Gems Premium members will find tips for finding and using these records in my newest Premium video tutorial, Institutional Records. (If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more. )

Sources in our cover image for this post include this photograph of a pregnant woman and a postcard found on the Harper Hospital (Detroit, MI) hospital webpage at RootsWeb. Click to view full citation information.

Page 1 of 712345...Last »

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU