Never Give Up on the Research Hunt

How have I been able to learn so much about my father’s story growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and 1940’s, particularly since there is not a lot of information out there on the internet regarding that part of the world? Russian archives are not as open as they are in other countries. I have decided that my Wednesday blogs will be devoted to how I went about my research, which did not go in a straight line by any means. Hopefully, my investigation methods may be helpful to others.  Today I will discuss finding immigrant passenger lists.

I knew all the details regarding when Dad returned to the United States because he had saved the ticket which contained all the relevant information: the departure location, arrival location, dates and ship- the Kamakura Maru. I thought it would be an easy task to find him on a passenger list- if it existed.  It took years to find him despite the existence of the list for the arrival of that ship both in Honolulu and its final destination of San Francisco. Here’s what I did:

  1.  Searched ancestry.com: All California, Passenger and Crew Lists 1882-1957 using ship and arrival date. Left passenger name blank and read every page in case his name was misspelled.
  2. Ordered the microfilm from the LDS local history center
  3. Went to National Archives I in Washington, DC where I enlisted the aid of an archivist. No results, because that particular researcher did nothing more than pull up ancestry.com
  4. Returned to step #1, where I noticed that all the records for that ship were labeled “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers.

The phrase, Alien Passengers was the key.  Dad was a United States Citizen, not an alien.  I knew there are regional archives so I looked to the west coast, found an office in San Francisco, and sent an email detailing the information I was seeking. I received an answer within 3 days. The detailed email response listed all the holdings of the San Francisco archives, the history of the Steerage Act of 1819 mandating the creation of passenger records document immigrant arrivals, the fire in 1940 which destroyed many of the San Francisco passenger lists, and finally:

We reviewed roll 32 of NARA microfilm publication M1439 and located the relevant one-page passenger manifest.  It lists the passenger’s name as Martin WARDAMSKY, age 22 years and four months, and lists his date and place of birth as April 10, 1919 in Rockaway, NJ, and his address in the United States as 29 Broad Street, Rockaway, NJ.  He boarded the vessel in Yokohama, Japan on June 14, 1941 and was admitted as a U.S. citizen in possession of a passport numbered 112 issued in Moscow, Russia on April 29, 1941.

The email went on to explain the costs to receive a copy of the relevant passenger list, which is $3.50/page with a minimum cost of $20. Since there were only twenty-one United States citizens on the ship, I requested the complete list.  Maybe I could locate someone still living today who had memories of the voyage.  Perhaps I could find someone who knew Dad.

The point of today’s post is to never give up the hunt. There may be many locations where the information can be found, and data is continually being digitized.  The information I received is still available only on microfilm.  Finally, sometimes it may just be a matter of speaking to someone else.  It turns out that the passenger list I received from San Francisco is also stored in Washington, DC.  I just spoke to someone at the Washington, DC archives who was, perhaps, new or just did not know all the nuances of the system.

Manifest-Kamakura Maru

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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.
This entry was posted in Archives Research, Genealogy Research Tips, USSR to New Jersey and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Never Give Up on the Research Hunt

  1. Jet Eliot says:

    Impressive tenacity, I’m sure your father would be proud.

  2. Su Leslie says:

    Great post; I’m always grateful for research tips and just love hearing about others’ tenacity. It’s vital. Am so enjoying your blog. I think I’m a bit like a Dicken’s fan – eagerly waiting the next installment of David Copperfield, or Great Expectations. In fact, there is something quite Dickensian in your father’s story (in the best way)!!!!

    • kjw616 says:

      Thank you for your extremely nice comment. This is the kind of remark that I would have expected if my husband secretly paid one of my kids to say something to make me believe I was not wasting my time. Coming from a stranger, it makes me feel like what I am doing is worthwhile. I really appreciate what you said.

      • Su Leslie says:

        You are very welcome. Family history research is very worthwhile, and as an archivst by profession, I feel passionately that if our generation doesn’t preserve not only our past but also our present, there will be a huge gap in the future. So much of what we do is electronic (emails replacing letters, digital photos, etc.) that if we don’t research and record, what will be left for our grandchildren. Oops, sorry about the rave. Happy researching and I’m looking forward (urchin face pressed against the virtual “newsagent’s window”) to the next exciting installment.

  3. Sheryl says:

    Thanks for sharing the research hints and tips. It’s amazing how much you’ve been able to find,

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