I have made a somewhat irksome discovery tonight – I have an unfortunate tendency to make such discoveries at unreasonable hours of the night – and instead of muttering about it in bed in the dark for a while, I’m going to try writing it out. I’ve been meaning for some time to blog this project, after all.
I hope my few readers will forgive my starting in the middle of the story and giving only the bare outlines for now.
So here’s the deal: A few years ago, I transcribed a set of audio recordings we have of my late grandfather and one of his sisters, in which they describe their memories of childhood and leaving their homeland in Odessa, Ukraine. While my great-aunt Jeanne’s story is harrowing at many points, it was my grandfather, Jack Granoff, who sticks with me. He died when I was an infant, and this might have been the first time I heard his voice at any length.
I grew up knowing his story. How after the Russian Revolution of 1917, his family – Jews and a factory manager – suffered. How my great-grandmother decided to leave, whether her husband would or no, and contacted a smuggler to get her and her children across the border of the USSR into Poland. How my grandfather was away when the smuggler came, and how he tried to follow, getting arrested in Poland for his pains and sent back to Russia.
Now, the way I remember understanding the story from that point in childhood is that he tried again, and snuck across the border, this time successfully. In school reports on family history and immigration, I confidently told my friends that due to immigration quotas in the 1920s, my grandfather got turned away at Ellis Island and had to get off the boat at its next stop in Mexico, where he lived for a few years before joining his mother and siblings in Detroit, Michigan.
Technically speaking, only a few points of that are actually wrong. The second time, the oral history indicates, he left Russia legally on a Nansen Passport. He never actually went to Ellis Island, but got a visa for Mexico while in Rotterdam, as visas for the US were not to be had. Between Mexico and the US, he lived in Canada for a while.
I’m going to go back and flesh this all out in later posts, partly because it’s fascinating, and partly because I want a record of the discovery process, both what I’ve done so far and what’s coming, because he’s been dead since 1987 and he’s driving me batty – every time I unearth a new document, it muddies the waters and confuses the hell out of everyone in the family. I want to go back in time and make him fill out a timeline of his life.
Anyway, tonight. Back in December, I discovered that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a Genealogy section that can turn up old naturalization documents and alien registration documents for family history researchers. Naturally, I requested them. First you pay $65 for them to look up whether the files exist and to tell you what the file numbers are. THEN you pay another $65 for EACH FILE, which in this case is two. I get that they’re funded entirely by these fees, but good grief.
I submitted the request for copies of the files on January 12. When I didn’t hear back within the 30-day window, I assumed it was due to the extended government shutdown earlier this year, and that there would be a backlog. Tonight it occurred to me that it’s been nearly four months, so I checked on the status of the request.
USCIS claims it was requested and paid for on January 12 (correct) and closed on January 29 (excuse me?).
Closed they may say it is, but I have received no communication from them since they acknowledged my payment of $130 on January 12. I have, naturally, sent a polite inquiry to their general email, asking for clarification on what exactly is going on, because I have received no files.
It’s times like this that I’m very grateful that being annoyed brings out my SAT vocabulary in writing. In person it usually brings out tears, so it’s much better to be annoyed at a distance.