Seeking Genealogy Mystery Solutions

Don’t you just hate it when you cannot solve that genealogy mystery? We all have many, but one which just continually bubbles up and gnaws at me is regarding the sale of my grandfather’s house prior to the big move to Russia in 1931. The story has always been that my grandparents moved because of the difficulties they faced because of the Great Depression and the promises of jobs by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. While the decision had tragic consequences for several members of the family, I understand the reasoning behind the move—the great desperation they all felt. So what is the mystery?

My father always talked about the fact that his parents brought American dollars with them, which were invaluable as Stalin was trying to industrialize the nation. Residents with foreign currency (also known as “hard currency’) were able to buy food and miscellaneous goods at special stores known as “Torgsin stores.”

I assumed the money was from the sale of their home in New Jersey.  When I checked the records for the sale of the home, there was no mention of the transfer of a large sum of money—just “one dollar and other valuable considerations.”

That is the big mystery. Did they have a secret stash of emergency funds which they would not use for anything, even food? What exactly were “other valuable considerations?”

When I mentioned this to my genealogist-friend, Sally, she threw out the idea that it may have been a private mortgage between my grandfather and the purchaser, or a cash deal that they wanted to keep secret. She pointed out that banks were in crisis at that time, so people had withdrawn their money from their banks, if they were lucky. I guess they hid it under their mattresses.  Perhaps there were tax considerations. I just don’t know and no one, even at the hall of records where I saw the deed, had any thoughts.

So I am throwing this out to anyone reading this. Does anyone have their own ideas? I would love to hear from you.


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, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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