I didn’t know where to begin, so I started with what I knew: The names of my grandparents, father and his siblings; where they lived in New Jersey; and the approximate time they moved to the Soviet Union. I knew the cause was the Great Depression and that Dad was about ten years old when they left, which would be around1930.
I headed to the library after learning about the existence of ancestry.com, which contains census records, ship’s records, and military records- among other things. The goal was to find the record of their voyage from New Jersey on their way to the Soviet Union. but I came home empty handed.
So feeling rather dejected and worried that I would never get anywhere, I decided to research passenger travel back when my grandparents arrived in the US in 1913 (that I was able to find despite the awful spelling of the last name) compared with travel in the early 1930s.
Knowing that my grandparents likely did not have a lot of money, I crafted a scenerio of a trip in which Dad and his family were squeezed into a cabin on an old steamer for what was probably only basic transportation. I imagined that the kids were sad and angry to be leaving all their friends behind in New Jersey, and the voyage was nothing like the luxurious cruises today.
On a visit to my mother’s house, I started searching through Dad’s dresser, and stumbled upon a very old diary. Bingo! I learned that the family did not all travel together and I also now had the exact dates. My Aunt Anna traveled with my grandfather’s brother in March, 1931 on the Mauretania, while the rest of the family traveled in December.
Back to the library I went, all smug with my new-found data. I learned from the diary that they sailed from New York to Southampton, England, so this time, I plugged in the dates, location, and first names only, and hit the jackpot. Not only did I know that Anna and Uncle Mark travelled on the Mauretania, but I also learned that the rest of the family- their name quite-well botched but still fairly recognizable- travelled on the Berengaria.
Further research led to a book written exclusively about the Berengaria, which enabled me to discover that the ship was quite luxuious. The Berengaria was the replacement for the Titanic. While I was not surprised to learn that my grandparents booked third-class passage, I was surprised to find out that third-class travel was fairly pleasant, and since they were traveling during the Great Depression, the ship was not full.
So now I had one tiny piece of the puzzle. The diary held so many more answers to their trip and years in the Soviet Union- but it was not all in English! I couldn’t wait to read it, and was so thankful that Dad had saved it. I also realized that the diary had made the trip between New Jersey and the Soviet Union twice that year. What secrets would I learn?