In keeping with my idea of the necessity of incorporating history into the understanding of our ancestor’s story, I decided to research what London was like in December 1931. This was the first stop on Dad’s journey.
I had visited London a few years prior to learning that Dad’s family had spent some time there on the way to the USSR. Not knowing that during my visit was rather unfortunate, because it would have been fun to retrace his steps and find where the hotel was located. But at least having been there, I had an idea what that waystation had been like for them.
Google maps provided me with a view of the site where their hotel sat, but both google maps and google search seemed to confirm that the hotel, The Kingsway Hotel, no longer exists. (There is another Kingsway Hotel, but it does not seem to be the same one.) I contacted someone at the London Borough of Camden Library, who corroborated that fact.
An email to an employee at the Museum of London pointed me to a wonderful video on youtube about the Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames, which depicted London during the approximate time period that Dad visited. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/waterloo-bridge/query/Waterloo This helped me paint a picture of what it looked like as they toured the city. It was a time of transition then, so the video showed horse-drawn carts walking beside cars and double-decker buses.
It never ceased to amaze me how willing people were to answer my questions and apologize if they took a while returning my letters. It was important for me to get the facts correct, because I was trying to recreate the trip as accurately as possible, so I didn’t want to talk about them walking down a street in London that I had taken on my trip a few years ago if the street did not exist in 1931.
The fact that I had a diary which recorded their adventures helped me imagine the trip, and I was happy to learn that they did have some fun before the next leg of their journey.
But how did they get the money for the trip? The answer to that meant checking out the census records of 1930 and then a visit to the Hall of Records during my next time in New Jersey.