Today’s post is written by Monique Politowski, an archives technician who works on the NARA/Ancestry digitization partnership project in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Millions of records have been converted to digital form since the partnership between NARA and Ancestry.com began in 2008, and some of the most popular records digitized as a result of this union are from Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State. When I became a staff member of the digitization project in Silver Spring, Maryland, I had the opportunity to peruse the anthology of passport applications:
- Passport Applications (ARC ID 1146000)
- Special Passport Applications (ARC ID 1150696)
- Passport Applications for Declarants (ARC ID 1244178)
- Special Diplomatic Passport Applications (ARC ID 1150702)
- Passport Applications for Travel to China (ARC ID 1244180)
- Passport Applications Filed at U.S. Territories and Possessions (ARC ID 1244181)
- General Emergency Passport Applications (ARC ID 1244182)
- Emergency Passport Applications (ARC ID 1244183)
- Insular Passport Applications for Residents of Puerto Rico and the Philippines (ARC ID 1244179)
While most people look to these online collections for personal genealogical information, I use them for scholarly research. I took interest in the Insular Passport Applications for Residents of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, 1913-1925 (ARC ID 1244179), because I wrote extensively about the imperialistic relationship between the United States and the Philippines as a graduate student.
As I searched through this paperwork from the twentieth century, I found the application for Encarnacion Alzona. Ms. Alzona was part of the “Pensionado” program, an American education program that brought male and female Filipino students to the United States to attend colleges and universities. She became the first Filipino woman to earn a Ph.D. from an American university through this program.
Unfortunately, this Columbia University alumnus is not a relative of mine, but viewing her passport application still moved me. I saw her birthday and I found out she was using this passport to go to Japan and Hong Kong on her way to the United States. Yet, the most interesting content was not Encarnacion’s personal information; it was the affidavits in the application that described her citizenship. She stated, “I am about to go abroad temporarily and intend to return to the Philippine Islands in two years with the purpose of residing and performing the duties of citizenship therein; that I owe allegiance to the United States, and do not acknowledge allegiance to any other government.”
That declaration fascinated me. How could the citizen of one nation pledge loyalty to another? Webster’s defines a citizen as “a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.” Based upon this definition Encarnacion would be an American citizen, because during this period the Philippines were still under the military protection of the United States. But, Encarnacion and her references confirm that she is a Philippine citizen as written in the application.
The content of this document and the others bound in the volumes of this series are certainly more than what they seem. They offer us a cursory examination of American foreign policy before the Cold War, and invite us to explore its nuances.
The passport applications are exemplary records that provide detailed information that can serve a diverse spectrum of researchers. Thus, genealogists, scholars, and civilians alike can search NARA’s collections on Ancestry.com to satisfy their curiosity. Given that these records have been granted a new life, a digital reincarnation if you will, countless people have the opportunity to view the applications and evaluate the content for themselves.
Digitized records on Ancestry.com are available free of charge in all NARA Research Rooms, including those in our regional archives and Presidential Libraries. Passport applications are accessible here.