Wednesday, February 17, 2021

With the Rarest of Names


In the field of genealogy, the discovery of an unusual surname can seem like a gift: a name which only a few can claim, it provides a wide open playing field, uncluttered by competing possibilities.

Not so, I am finding out, with the surname Manouiloff. That was the married name of the woman listed as my godmother Genia's aunt on the passenger records of their 1947 arrival in Virginia. Alexandra Manouiloff was the name given as that of the closest relative, outside of the United States, of Genia's mother Lydia Melnitchenko. Alexandra, according to that report, still lived in Marseilles, the city Lydia and Genia had just left for good.

My first thought was to wonder whether Lydia's sister remained in France, or whether she would eventually consider moving to America, as well. So, of course, I took a look to see whether any other family members eventually joined Lydia in her move to become a United States citizen.

As it turned out, I did find a few details on the woman. But only a very few. Perhaps this name was turning out to be a bit too rare.

First, arriving in New York on the French ship Liberte on May 19, 1958, was a woman named exactly that: Alexandra Manouiloff. Unfortunately, the only other detail affixed to her typewritten entry on the passenger list was her passport number and the term "Stateless." Sadly, this was not one of the forms for which the magic of flipping the page would reveal the secrets we are eager to uncover.

The second discovery was a typewritten index card for those who had filed petitions for naturalization with the federal district court in New York City. The card did, thankfully, squeeze in a few useful details, unlike some on which I have seen not much more than the person's name entered. From this card dated June 20, 1966, we learn not only Alexandra's petition number as well as alien registration number, but also her current address and date of birth.

That October 12, 1899, birth date came in handy for matching up those two sparse records with the sole remaining one I could find: her entry in the Social Security Death Index. Rather, let's make that "his" entry, as the given name recorded was not Alexandra, but Alexander. However, with the gift of finding that same birthday—October 12, 1899—combined with what we will soon come to see as the very unusual spelling of her surname, I believe it is safe to assume it was Alexandra who died in August of 1966, not long after her petition for naturalization was recorded as having been received.

Was there any obituary? Not that I can find. Facing the tedium of sorting through New York State death records—especially those originating from the fiefdom of New York City—will likely be something I'll need to consider. I can't even find a place of burial at this point. And, other than her sister's family, certainly not any indication of who might have been left to mourn her loss.

Such is sometimes the fate of searches for surnames which seem a bit too rare. But I'm not satisfied to leave the search just yet. As we've done with so many other surnames in the past, let's see what can be found by taking our research question outside the sheltered realm of genealogy and into the broader orbit of the Internet at large. 

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