Tuesday, February 16, 2021

With the Flip of a Page


Sometimes, it seems we struggle so hard to capture the exact picture of our family's history—and then other times, we reach the solution as easily as if it were just the flip of a page.

When I first started working on my godmother's family tree—a project I thought was hopeless, since everyone I knew in that family had long since passed away—one silly goal I had kept almost as if my own little secret was that I wanted to see if Genia had any relatives still alive.

That type of search simply wouldn't have become a possibility if it hadn't been for the massive digitization of government documents, newspapers and other publications. The search capabilities we have at our fingertips now would have been startling science fiction only a few decades ago. But then, we have to give credence to the warnings of "operator error," as well, for despite the powerhouses we now command as part of our modern search capabilities, sometimes the solution to our research dilemma can still be as simple as turning over a page.

That, in fact, was the only barrier standing between me and the beginning of discovering a possible answer to my question: who were Genia's relatives?

Let me take you back to that passenger list for the S.S. William Ford Nichols, arriving at the port of Norfolk, Virginia, on April 21, 1947. That was the document where I had discussed the additional handwritten comments at the bottom of the page, explaining that "stateless" passengers Lydia and Genia Melnitchenko had used for identification a document called a Nansen passport.

We already know, from the many other records we had found for Genia and her mother, that these two lines in the alien passenger listing referred to the right people. Just last week, in fact, we had flipped the page on Lydia's husband's arrival in New York City after that horrifying torpedo attack to see that her former address in Marseilles was indeed confirmed.

Here, at last, Genia and Lydia had arrived in the United States to stay for good, it seemed, after decades of facing up to what must have seemed like continual warfare. But just like any other alien arriving on our shores, the immigration officials wanted to collect details about who was coming in, and where they had come from

In the case of this 1947 passenger list, the address of a significant other from the "old" country was not showing on the page we had already viewed. That, however, could be had for the simple flip of a page—but had I already done that? Of course not. At that point, I was looking for other details. The logical next step had slipped my mind while I was on another research trail.

Finally returning to do my due diligence in the nosy researcher department, I found an unexpected gem. I had somehow thought that any address given by Lydia or her daughter would have referred to her seafaring husband, wherever he was residing at the time. That, as it turned out, was not the case.

The address Lydia provided was for someone else living in Marseilles, the city she had just left on her final voyage to America. The address was written as "3 Impasse Bombinette" but of course, I couldn't just accept that recording of the information. I had to look it up for myself, which was a good way to double-check details.

What is still existent in Marseilles is a winding dead-end alley called Impasse des Bombinettes. I doubt the numbering system still remains the same, but already I could tell from the map of that geographic area that this road was not far from the address which Michael Melnitchenko had recently given as Lydia's own residence in Marseilles.

The address, though, was something I was only mildly curious about. What I really was keen on seeing was the added note above the name and address given: it was marked "sister."

Lydia's sister was named "Mrs. Alexandra Manouiloff." Whether that was a phonetic transcription of what an American government official thought he heard an aging, travel-weary, twice-displaced immigrant say in possibly-mispronounced French, I can't tell. But you can hardly expect me to wait around for a response to such a conjecture. I'm now off to see whether I can find any documents containing a name like Alexandra's.


  1. Hope you are staying warm and escaping all the bad weather. Seems you found a clue!

    1. Yes! Finding a clue is always cause to celebrate. And searching for one sure keeps us out of the nastier sorts of weather, doesn't it?!


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