Germany Passports

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Passports[edit | edit source]

Passports became important in Germany during the 19th century as a control measure. Before that a passport was a form of recommendation. A letter given to the traveler made his passage within and outside of German territories easier, depending on the influence the issuer had. Passports were both status symbol for uninterrupted travel and legal documentation for members belonging to fringe groups. Mandatory passports were required only in times of crises, when there were epidemics and political or military conflicts. Such documents were restricted to time and space.

Passport guidelines were established in France in 1792 to control migrations. Citizens now needed a passport if they wanted to leave their “Departement”. Such documents were limited, mostly allowing people to travel certain routes. Such guidelines did not really change until 1860. The restrictions were implemented for political and military reasons. Conscripted men could be watched better and travelers could be kept away from political and strategically important places, for instance, the capital. Thus potential danger caused by spies and other agitators could be prevented. This system was copied by other European nations.

In German territories, the influx of refugees from revolutionary France, lead to stiffer measures. The foreign office watched emigrants much more closely and placed them in designated areas. During the Napoleonic occupation identification laws were worked out and assimilated to the French model. If someone wanted to move more than 8 miles away from his home, he needed identification on his person at all times. Students who identified themselves by their matriculation papers were no longer to do so since 1820. Documents issued by guilds were only valuable in connection with an official passport until “Wanderbücher” were issued, similar to the French “livret d’ouvrier” in which travel routes and work related certificates were documented. Members of the police would overlook the identification process. After 1830 “Wanderbücher” became the norm of identification for journeymen who were part of the German Bund. People of other German territories as well as other non-Germans had no right to entry or stay. Disregard for guidelines were prosecuted. The affected could find themselves in prison or could plead their case at the next higher administration level.

The measures for issuance of identification and control had somewhat shifted from former intentions in as much that now crime and movements of fringe groups came under closer scrutiny. Beggars, vagabonds, out of work servants, quacks, peddlers etc. were not permitted entry into German territories. This law coincided with the long held convictions by officials against “das fahrende Volk” (migrants).
Before each travel which would entail departure from immediate surroundings a passport had to be issued by the local mayor or the judge of the regional administration. Such papers were valid for the length of the journey or for one year. Identification had to be shown to each official who wanted to see them. Document controls could occur in the street, the next big town or at the first overnight stay.

In Prussia a passport entailed a detailed description of a person. People of higher social standing were issued a so called “Signalement”, meaning that they did not have to be subjected to scrutinizing measures by the police. People of the upper classes even were issued identification cards which allowed them to bypass control, thus avoiding long lines for instance at the railway stations in Berlin. Such cards were also issued in the kingdom of Saxony, Anhalt–Dessau, Anhalt-Köthen and the Prussian provinces of Brandenburg, Sachsen and Silesia as well as for the district of Stettin. In 1849 this measure was adopted by the Kurfürstentum Hessen and then again by 15 other territories. Most members of the German Bund had this privilege in place by 1852. By 1867 regular pass controls were eliminated, but it became mandatory to carry an official document while travelling. In 1865 it was determined that requirement to carry a passport between Bavaria, Hannover, Saxony and Wuerttemberg was no longer necessary.

Passport regulations between 1815 and the 1850s in German territories were in the hands of police officers. They were allowed access to guest books in inns, they could trace the exact travel route by looking at visas and remarks on the travel documents. People were sometimes willfully subjected to examinations, long periods of waiting or even corporal punishment. The execution of the passport laws was not evenly handled. Lax officials as well as stringent adhering to regulations have been reported by travelers. Another factor was that not enough officers were available to enforce emigration-immigration/migration laws which account for the many secret emigrations from German territories. Statistics say that at times 90% of the population in some areas of East Prussia emigrated without official consent. In other German territories the amount of secret emigrations sway between 30 and 50%, and that is only estimated. Secret emigration was more an issue in German territories closest to the French border. Emigrants with enough cash at hand were issued entry on the spot, thus also supporting the ship companies operating out of French harbors.

Each state or city had its own laws regarding passports. In many cases, the applications for passports and the supporting documentation have been preserved. These records often give information such as the emigrant's name, birth date or age, birthplace, occupation, last residence, verification of identity, and physical description.

Hamburg. Residents of Hamburg had to apply for a passport to emigrate. A few emigrants from other parts of Germany stopped in Hamburg long enough to become residents. If they were residents, they might be in the passport records. The Hamburg passport applications have been microfilmed for the years 1851 to 1929 and include indexes. They are in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Stuttgart (Württemberg). The Family History Library has indexed the Stuttgart-area passport records for the years 1845 to 1920. This index usually gives the emigrant's hometown and destination. Names beginning with the letters A through R are on FHL film 1,125,018, and S through Z are on film 1,125,019. Many of the individuals listed were internal migrants who came from another part of Württemberg and remained in Württemberg. Most names are from the early 1900s. To find the original passport and visa record microfilm numbers, look in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under: