Where Was the Money?

They were moving from New Jersey to Leningrad during the Great Depression. How did they get the money? My immigrant grandparents made the difficult decision to return to their homeland  two years after the stock market crash of 1929 presumably because they were that desperate. From what I could see on the 1930 census, my grandfather was doing odd jobs and my 15 year old aunts were employed at a hosiery mill.

The plan, I later learned, was to move to the Soviet Union for 10 years until the economy in the United States improved. They must have felt they could no longer afford to stay here, but if that was the case, how did they get the money to leave?

My original thought was that they somehow scraped the money together to buy the cheapest passage they could find, so the trip was probably not pleasant. But after finding the diary, and learning that the third-class accomodations on the Berengaria were quite nice, I started to rethink my assumptions.  When I learned that they remained in London for four days, seeing movies and touring the city, I became even more confused. How did they get the money?

The census also told me that my grandparents owned their home, which was valued at approximately $6000, so I decided that the proceeds from the sale of the house gave them the money for the trip and to start their new life in Leningrad.

A return visit to New Jersey added further confusion, because the data that I found at the county courthouse showed a transfer between my grandparents and the new homeowners of only $1!  Upon  asking the gentleman at the courthouse, as well as numerous genealogists and historians what that meant, I was told by all that, usually, the sale with a transfer of such a small sum usually indicated the sale was between relatives. This was not the case.

I am looking for theories to anyone out there reading this. Why would the records show an exchange of only “$1  and other valuable considerations” between my grandfather and the new homeowner? My grandfather was working doing odd jobs, 2 of his children were working rather than going to school, they took in a boarder and were leaving this country because of the promise of employment in the USSR. Clearly he needed money. Is the key the phrase “other valuable considerations”?  What does that mean?

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About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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2 Responses to Where Was the Money?

  1. archecotech says:

    Let me tell you a little about Russians. They are extremely resourceful. My thought is that before the crash, they had something what ever that might have been that they could use for collateral, when they returned this probably means that they came back with what they had borrowed. Just a thought.

  2. kjw616 says:

    You could be correct. Dad was definitely resourceful. He was always coming up with his own crazy ways of doing things- even repairing a broken window with a combination of Tupperware and cardboard rather than hire someone to fix it properly. He probably learned that from his own father. My grandfather had worked for many years in Argentina after leaving Russia but before coming to the US. Maybe he brought some of the money with him and put it away, as you say.

    Not only did they have the money for the trip to Leningrad, they also had cash for the “torgsin stores”, which I gather were government-run stores where Soviet citizens who had access to “hard currency” such as US dollars could buy goods not available in other stores. It came from somewhere.

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