Since I last wrote on the subject, I’ve made a little progress on trying to untangle my grandfather’s complicated story, but it’s still pretty snarled.
I’ve still had no luck pursuing the Nansen Passport or the significance of his Mexican passport. For the former, I suspect I’ll have to travel in person to Geneva, home of the League of Nations archive (oh darn, a trip to Switzerland, what a shame, oh well if I must). I’ve corresponded with some of the archivists there and they’ve given me the impression that the collection is not indexed at a granular level and that full digitization may be a while, if documents do indeed exist for Jack. The oral history is very clear that he use a Nansen Passport, but I don’t understand how he would have gone about obtaining one, or even when the document itself came into his possession. As for the Mexican passport, well, I simply haven’t managed to get anyone to answer me. I’ve written to numerous institutions and individuals in both English and in the best of my high school Spanish I can dredge up, and all I’ve got is echoing silence. I’m really not sure what to do. If anyone out there knows someone who might help me understand immigration TO Mexico in the 1920s, please let me know.
Two significant documents have turned up in the past couple years. For the first I am deeply indebted to the lovely people at Museum Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Thanks to them, I now have a copy of the ship manifest on which my grandfather is listed as leaving Europe for Mexico. We have a date, we have a ship name, and we have information about the route the ship took that confirms the story of its stopping at A Coruña and Havana before reaching Veracruz. I got a little weepy when I saw his name there on the page. There’s something so solid about seeing such a document.
The other document to turn up – well, I say “document,” but that’s not entirely accurate – is Jack’s United States naturalization file. It took a couple tries (and a couple times paying, but that’s neither here nor there) with US Customs and Immigration Service to actually get a copy of the file, but boy was it worth the effort. I expected the usual two or three pages of a Declaration of Intent to Naturalize. What I got was around 200 pages of forms, transcripts, correspondence, and warrants. As it turns out, the theory I had about my grandfather’s early years in the United States was not far off the truth. I speculated for some time that he had overstayed a visitor visa to Detroit while he was officially living in Ontario, but the story turned out to be even more complicated.
Because Jack became a naturalized Canadian citizen, he was supposed to check in with the Canadian consulate on a regular basis while living in the United States, I guess to confirm he was still a Canadian citizen. Whether intentionally or not, Jack did not do this. When he eventually applied for US citizenship and US Immigration discovered he was in the country on an expired visa, they tried to deport him back to Canada. Because he had not checked in with the Canadian consulate, Canada wouldn’t take him. He was effectively stateless, once again. The file I received from USCIS tells the story of the legal limbo in which Jack found himself. I don’t have it fully straight in my head yet, but I feel pretty smug that I guessed part of it correctly!
How this part of the story has never come up before is a surprise to me – you’d think it’d be one of those gossipy fragments whispered by the eldest family members – but here we are. Frustrating though this journey is, I’m enjoying it tremendously. Especially if it takes me to Switzerland.