This is a guide to tracing historical passport records. If you are looking for information about a current issue with your own passport, please contact the Passport Office.
Old passports themselves have not been kept in large numbers and you are unlikely to find original passports in our collection. You are more likely to find registers and indexes of passport applications but even these records have been kept in relatively small proportions. In general, it is not unusual for there to be no trace of a passport or a passport application in our records.
What do I need to know before I start?
Before the First World War it was not compulsory for someone travelling abroad to apply for a passport. Possession of a passport was confined largely to merchants and diplomats, and the vast majority of those travelling overseas had no formal documents.
Indexes of British passport applicants (1851-1903)
Search and download indexes of names of passport applicants between 1851-1856, 1858-1862 and 1874-1903 (FO 611/1-19) on findmypast.co.uk (£).
There are no indexes at all for 1857 or for 1863 to 1873. The indexes for 1858 are missing the entries for A-G.
Later indexes often only provide the name and date of issue, but earlier indexes can provide:
- the name of the bearer of the passport
- the passport number
- the date the passport was issued
- any observations (rare) that may have been noted during the application
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Indexes of British passport applicants (1904-1916)
Search the indexes of names of passport applicants between 1904-1916 in FO 611/20-25. The indexes are not in strict alphabetical order but are listed chronologically by initial letter of surname.
Registers of British passport applications (1795-1948)
Browse the registers of British passport applications in FO 610, which are arranged by date and by passport number. They generally contain little more than the information in the online indexes and sometimes even less, but provide a longer, unbroken run of years.
Passports (1802-1961) and case papers (1916-1983)
Search by name for Foreign Office passports in FO 655 and Passport Office case papers in FO 737. These are small collections of records and therefore not comprehensive.
Narrow your search by using quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as “John Williams”
Entry books of passes issued by Secretaries of State (1674-1794)
Browse entry books of passes issued by Secretaries of State to people travelling into and out of Britain. These records cover the date ranges 1674-1784 (SP 44/334-413) and 1748-1794 (FO 366/544). Some of the information is included in Calendar of State Papers Domestic and Calendar of Home Office Papers.
Other records of the Passport Office (1795-1983)
Browse or search the various record series within the records of the Passport Office (FO Division 17), some of which are covered in this guide, above, and include Passport Office correspondence 1815-1974 (FO 612).
Colonial passports (1796-1818)
Correspondence regarding applications for passports from the colonies can be found in the Colonial Office General Correspondence series at CO 323/97-116.
Records in other archives and organisations
Records held elsewhere
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.
Contact HM Passport Office for more information about recent records on passports as these records have not yet been transferred to The National Archives.
Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Roger Kershaw, Migration Records (The National Archives, 2009)
Martin Lloyd, The Passport: the History of Man’s Most Travelled Document (Sutton, 2003)
Read Original Lists of Persons Emigrating to America, 1600-1700 by J C Hotten (Chatto and Windus, 1874), which contains information from The National Archives’ registers of licences to pass beyond the seas (E 157).