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This is a followup to last week's post, Notorious, looking again at German-Americans during World War I. The lesson in this post is that you can learn a lot from passport applications.

Let's start with a woman called Anna. She was born in Dresden, Germany in 1851. The earliest record I've found her mentioned in is the 1880 U.S. Census, at which time she is living in Philadelphia with her husband, Mr. John Smith, and one child, a 7-year-old daughter named Mary. Mr. Smith's Quaker ancestors came to Pennsylvania early, in the 1600s. In 1880, he is part of an educated clan, in the specialized, respectable business of publishing law books.

Anna's widowed German mother is also a member of the household. This provides Anna's maiden name, though I've yet to find any other relevant records bearing that name.You may have noticed these people have extraordinarily generic names. This has made searches problematic, because of having to sort through so many "false positive" results. Almost of what I know of her has come from passport applications.

Mr. Smith dies young, at 40, likely long anticipated. His 1889 death certificate shows he died of consumption (aka tuberculosis) at a sanitarium in New York State. Shortly thereafter, Anna booked passage back to Germany with her only child, Mary, now a teen. (I assume Anna's mother went, too, if she was still alive, though I've yet to find records that indicate what happened to her.) Anna applies to renew her American passport in 1890, presumably to keep current.

Daughter Mary shows up in the records again a few years later, married to a native born U.S. citizen, from New Jersey, whose immigrant parents were from Germany & Scotland. They marry in Dresden in 1894, and their first child is born in New Jersey a year and a half later.  

They move to England, where two more children are born. They are counted in Cornwall for the 1901 English Census. Mary's husband dies at 45 in 1909 and is buried in Cornwall.  He leaves her with three children, counted in the 1911 England Census.

Mary dies in 1953 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and is buried in Philadelphia. (Except that she remarried, and spent an unknown amount of time in France including 1919, her story for this 40+ years remains a blank.)

Mary's mother, Anna, shown in the picture to the left, remains in Germany.  The picture was submitted with a 1915 passport application.

Anna visits the States. One hopes she spent some time with her grandchildren in England. (Again, the very common names make searches challenging.) Anna has property back in Pennsylvania she inherited from her husband, including a house. The legal publishing company is still in business.

She does not remarry. Life goes on.

And then Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary Empire's crown, is assassinated in Sarajevo at the end of June 1914.


By early August, the major countries of Europe have chosen up sides and declared war on each other. Germany invades Belgium on August 4th. August 10, Anna Smith visits the American Consulate in Dresden to apply for a passport, which is issued. This has to be a response to world events.

Here's a timeline of widow Anna Smith's passport applications, including supporting documentation. This list is certainly incomplete, but still sketches a narrative:

  • Oct 1890, Berlin: Widow Smith's passport application is submitted on a Native form, not one for naturalized U.S. citizens, despite being born German. That status claim is based upon her deceased husband having been a native-born U.S. citizen. Permanent residence: Philadelphia. Application is for herself and 17-year-old daughter, Mary.
Note: During this period passport application forms included the following instruction: A woman's application must state whether she is married or not, and a married woman must state whether her husband is a native citizen.
  • Aug 1914, Dresden. Emergency Passport Application.  Generally, the purpose of applying for a passport is travel. On this application, Anna describes her purpose as "protection." A copy of her marriage certificate is presented as documentation for her claim as a "native" U.S. citizen.
  • Jan 1915, Dresden. Type: Native; Permanent Residence: Philadelphia; Intend to Return within 2 years. Purpose of passport is for residence in Germany.
  • Oct 1915, Dresden. Residing in Germany. Type: Native. Permanent Residence: Philadelphia
At this time, America is still neutral in the Great War. Attached to this passport application is a letter to the Secretary of State signed by the American Consulate General at Dresden.  
I have the honor to transmit, with photographs attached, the passport application of Mrs. Smith, a native of Dresden, Saxony, but an American citizen by marriage, to whom the Department issued a passport February 1915.  Mrs. Smith has filed an affidavit in the Office that she will remain in Germany until the close of the war when she intends to return to Philadelphia where her property is located, her home being in Germantown.

Your obedient servant ---

  • Oct 1919, The Hague. The War is over. Anna shows up at the American Embassy in The Hague to apply for another passport. She is traveling on an emergency passport from Spain, issued in Berlin. She is ready to travel to the U.S. permanently, only waiting for a U.S. passport for her departure.

This application required a supplemental form, Affadavit to Explain Foreign Residence and Overcome Presumption of Expatriation. At this point, Anna had spent as much time back in Germany as she'd spent in her 20 years as a German immigrant in Philadelphia. She does not present her American marriage certificate to support her claim to American citizenship, as she had in 1915. Less than a third of her life has been lived in the U.S. Here's what she had to say for herself.

I ceased to reside in the United States on or about November 1889, that I have since resided at Dresden, Germany; and I am now temporarily residing in Holland, my reason for such residence [away from the U.S.] being the following:

I went to Germany for economical reasons my husband having died and I believing it cheaper to live in there than in America. She gives references: a bank, the publishing company, and a couple of individuals [only one of them she actually knows their location, one of her son-in-law's German-American relations, her remarried daughter being only "somewhere in France."]

I have visited America ten times since leaving. I intend to return to the United States immediately.

That trip out of Germany in 1919 must have been something. The war had left defeated Germany, and all the rest of Europe, in a shambles. The 1918 influenza epidemic killed even more people than the War had. Anna was in her late 60s.

The next page, Opinion of the Officer Taking Affadavit, is blank. No opinion was recorded. But it must have worked. The next application is made from Philadelphia, 1924, to extend her then current passport.

I do not know when or where she died. I have located her husband's grave in Philadelphia, and she is not buried there with him. Almost everything I've been able to find out about her was found in her passport applications.


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