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!

Do You Know Where Your Ancestors are Really From? A French-Canadian-Irish Genealogy Mystery

Read this genealogy mystery from a Canadian family with French and Irish roots. You’ll see the value of considering varied surname spellings, watching for other relatives in census records, using church records, and compiling clues from several sources to get a better picture of the past. 

genealogy mystery

Thanks to Carolyn Tolman, Project Manager at Legacy Tree Genealogists, for this guest post.

Recently we were contacted by a client who requested we begin researching her direct paternal ancestor. This ancestor was named John Lucy, of Ontario, Canada, and was of alleged Irish heritage. Our client explained that her father had recently died and that he would have loved to know the history of his name. She had been trying to trace the Lucy line herself and was not having success. Though she wished she had begun the research before he passed, she felt this was a way for her to honor her father’s life. She was also planning a trip to Ireland soon and hoped to visit her ancestral towns. She said “I would be so happy to just make the first connection back to the UK. That is what my father always wanted to know.”

Unraveling a genealogy mystery: Methodist or Catholic? Irish or French?

A survey of Canadian censuses between 1871 and 1901 established that John Lucy was born in Cumberland, Ontario in the early 1840s, and was Wesleyan Methodist by way of religion. However, neither John Lucy nor any of his children appeared in the Wesleyan Methodist baptism records in the Cumberland area. At this point, research temporarily halted as we had reached the end of a project.

In the meantime, the client located a Wesleyan Methodist marriage index entry for a John Lussiers and Ann Hannah who married in Cumberland on 22 August 1864, and she requested that we recommence researching the Lucy family. In the marriage record, John was reportedly born in Cumberland and was the son of “E[xe]brus and Delia Lussiers.” The name “E[xe]brus” was obviously a poor transcription of an unknown name, as we knew these marriage registers were the result of several subsequent handwritten copies. An immediate concern with correlating John Lucy and John Lussiers was the apparent French spelling of his surname. We knew from previous research that John Lucy’s ethnicity was consistently identified as Irish after 1871. However, learning this new possible spelling and ethnicity led us to recognize John in the 1861 census:

John Lucier enumerated in Cumberland, Ontario in 1861.

Fourteen-year-old John Lucier lived in the R.P. Lindsay household.[1] They lived in Cumberland – the same place John Lussiers listed in his marriage record. We were surprised to see that John Lucier was identified as Roman Catholic, unlikely for someone who would only three years later be married in a Wesleyan Methodist Church. Upon closer inspection, we developed a hypothesis that would explain the apparent conflict. John was listed as one of three non-family members in the household of a Church of Scotland minister. This young boy may have been taken in by Rev. Lindsay when his parents died or were otherwise unable to care for him. So, although John Lucier was a baptized Roman Catholic, he was living in a house where everyone else was a member of the Church of Scotland. He would have become familiar with and was probably following the Presbyterian tradition.

John may have had mixed ancestry, with his father having been French and his mother Irish. He may have then chosen to more closely identify with his Irish roots, particularly since his wife was Irish. To test this hypothesis, we turned to John Lucy’s children and found that they indeed frequently identified themselves as having French lineage. By analyzing the later records concerning two of John Lucy’s children, we gathered evidence that the family likely had both buy lyrica medication French and Irish heritage. This supported our hypothesis that John Lucy was also known as John Lussiers and that he married Ann Hannah in 1864.

The next chapter in this genealogy mystery: Finding John’s mother in the census

A search for John Lucy/Lussiers in the 1851 census did not yield any positive results, most likely because the surviving 1851 census is not complete, so we returned to the 1861 census for more clues. Interestingly, there were two Lucier families in 1861 in Cumberland. The families of Frances Lucier and Baptist Lucier appear next to each other in the census. Of note, Frances Lucier’s wife was named Adelaide and they had a daughter, Delia.[2] The similarity of Adelaide to John’s mother’s name – Delia – was compelling. Moving to French Catholic parish records, we discovered the baptismal record for a John Lucier, son of Francis Lucier and Adelaide Dirmont/Diamond, born in Cumberland on 30 August 1844 and baptized on 12 November 1844 at the parish St. Gregoire-de-Nazianze in Buckingham, which is just across the river from Cumberland.[3]

Baptismal record of John Lucier 12 November 1844 at the parish St. Gregoire-de-Nazianze.

The Catholic Church records of Quebec and some areas of Ontario are a fantastic collection. The French-Canadian church records served as civil registration records until the beginning of the twentieth century. Copies of all the church records were thus sent annually to the appropriate courthouse. In the 1940s, L’Institut Généalogique Drouin (The Drouin Genealogical Institute) microfilmed these records at courthouses across Quebec and in other areas with high French-Canadian populations. [Click here for a recent update on the Drouin Collection online, and click here for an article on Catholic church records in Quebec.]

In addition to this Drouin collection, an extensive, seven-volume genealogical reference was developed by Father Cyprien Tanguay in the late nineteenth century. The Genealogical Dictionary of Canadian Families from the Foundation of the Colony to the Present Day, also known as the Tanguay Collection, is considered one of the most comprehensive resources for French-Canadian genealogy. [Ancestry.com has indexed images of this collection.]

Using these excellent resources, we were quickly able to track John Lucy’s paternal line back 200 years to the immigrant ancestor, Jacques Lussier, son of Jacques and Marguerite (Darmine) Lussyé of St. Eustache, Paris, France, who married Catherine Clerice (also born in Paris) on 12 October 1671 at Notre Dame du Quebec, Quebec City, Quebec.

Our client was thrilled. Of her father, she said, “I know he would be ecstatic.” She continued, “I am so impressed with the level of work that you have done. That cannot have been easy at all but it looks like we made a breakthrough this time. That is so exciting.”

There is nothing more satisfying than breaking through genealogical brick walls and helping our clients realize their heritage, perhaps especially when it is different than the family always believed. Our client may not be able to visit the Lucy ancestral village in Ireland this summer, but they may now be considering adding a stop in Paris!

Notes

[1] 1861 Canada Census (population schedule), Cumberland, Russell, Ontario, ED 1, p. 12, [R.P.] Lindsay household, http://myheritage.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

[2] 1861 Canada Census (population schedule), Cumberland, Russell, Ontario, ED 1, p. 7, Francis Lucier household, http://myheritage.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

[3] Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 (index and image), baptism of John Lucier, 10 November 1844, Buckingham and Grenville, Québec, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

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