The Woman in the Photo

Genealogy research takes a lot of persistence and patience. We would all like to hope that our ancestors’ stories can be easily pieced together by filling in a few names and dates at ancestry.com.  Sometimes, particularly with an unusual name, we get lucky.  More often, it takes going down many paths, picking up a few pieces to the puzzle, and then sitting down and assembling it all into a story. What follows is one of my most rewarding and difficult searches.  I had a photo and a story. It is a picture of my father returning to New Jersey on the Japanese ship, Kamakura Maru in June 1941. He is standing with a young woman.  The story was that he met a woman and her mother- Polish Jews- who were on their way to Canton, Ohio. The young woman’s father had supposedly arranged for them to obtain American passports. Here’s how I found the identity of the woman in the photo and her living grandson, a search which took many years:

  1. The list of passports issued in April 1941, which I obtained from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, had the names of two women: Cipa and Bluma Lewin. Could one of these be the woman in the photo?
  2. A year later, I obtained the passenger list for the voyage on the Kamakura Maru, and on that list, were two women, Cipa and Bluma Lewin. They were from Poland and headed to Canton, Ohio.  Cipa was the younger- only 25- so I was feeling more confident that she could be the woman in the photo with Dad.
  3. I viewed a video in which my father told the story about meeting the women on the Kamakura Maru.  He mentioned having the address. I recalled that I had found an address book alongside the diary in my father’s dresser. I flipped through the pages of the address book and found and entry, “K. Levine, Canton, Ohio.”  BINGO!  This was similar enough, particularly knowing that the letters “W” and “V” are often interchanged.
  4. I returned to ancestry.com, and found several hits. The one which was the most helpful was in the City Directories for Bluma and Kalman Levine in Canton, Ohio.  Aha!
  5.  I hopefully now had the name of the parents of the woman in the photo. Ancestry.com gave me the dates of their death, so I wrote to the county library and asked for copies of their obituaries, which I received by email later that day. Quick turnaround, Stark County Public Library!
  6. The obituary mentioned one daughter, and although the first name was different (Sally instead of Cipa), I knew names were often Americanized. Sally (Cipa?) was married, so I had a completely different name to locate.
  7. Ancestry also provided me with Sally’s date of death. I couldn’t find her obituary on that site, so I tried another search site which has been very successful to me in the past: “Newsbank- America’s News”, which I am able to access via my local town library remotely. When I read “She was born in Poland, came to the U.S. in 1941, settling in Canton “, I knew this was a match.  I was confident I had found the woman in the photograph, but I needed to be 100% positive. Her obituary provided me with the names of her children.
  8. I googled the names of one of the children + white pages.  I learned from that search that there was only one person in the US with that name.  Sometimes we are lucky.  That name was connected with a business email address.  I took a chance and sent an email with a brief explanation of why I was writing, attaching a photo of the ship and my father with the mystery woman.  I asked if the woman in the photo was his mother. Attaching the photo was the difference to getting a response and having my email deleted.

The response I got that same day was “That is a picture of my mother……..wow…………” (By the way, her grandson had the same photo of the ship shown below.) So now the mystery of the woman in the photo is solved. My advice is to be patient and take one step at a time.  Using ancestry.com, ship records, city directories, local libraries, Newsbank, and Google searches are all useful tools in our searches.  Sometimes, all must be used together in finding the answers to our genealogy mysteries.

Dad with young Polish woman headed to Canton, Ohio aboard Kamakura, Maru

Dad with young Polish woman headed to Canton, Ohio aboard Kamakura, Maru

Ship Dad traveled on between Yokohama, Japan and San Francisco, CA June 1941

Ship Dad traveled on between Yokohama, Japan and San Francisco, CA June 1941

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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 Genealogy Research Tips, USSR to New Jersey and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Woman in the Photo

  1. Su Leslie says:

    Brilliant (and patient) detective work. I love the way you set out each step so clearly. I think I need to take a leaf out of your book to try and work on my brick walls. Thanks for posting. 🙂

  2. kjw616 says:

    Thank you. I am sure you know how excited I was to hear from her grandson. It should validated Dad’s story. I wish he had been willing to share his grandmother’s memories. He said she had made notes on the back of the postcard of the ship. But just being able to identify her told me I missed my calling as a detective.

  3. NikiMarie says:

    Amazing! It’s stories like yours that keep me inspired when I get frustrated with finding more information. Thank you for sharing!

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