Sunday, August 23, 2020

Supplemental Passport Files - A Rich Resource

Simon Mitchneck was a famous voice/accent coach to Hollywood's elite.  He also was my cousin--although I don't know quite how.  Multiple Diamond cousins born in the 1940s and 1950s remember visiting him, and DNA has shown a strong connection to the Mitchneck family, but the actual connection is still elusive.

A few months ago, some genealogy friends were having an email-based discussion about letters from European family members found along with official US documents, and I mentioned some letters found to Simon from his sisters in Europe after WWI, which were included with some of his passport applications (which you can see here and here).

One of those friends was Rich Venezia, who knows pretty much everything about US immigration documentation.  So he decided to see what he could find about Simon's passport application, beyond what I had found on Ancestry.
A letter sent to Simon's siblings (pages 1 and 4)
Right before the world shut down for COVID, Rich visited NARA College Park and looked for Simon in the Passport Master Index, since he knew from our discussion that Simon had applied for a passport.  The Passport Master Index indexes, among many other things, supplemental records related to passport applications between 1906 and April 1925 held at NARA College Park. It turns out that Simon had applied for multiple passports (and Rich found reference to many), but the most interesting one was from 1921, when he applied for a passport--and it was rejected.  The application for that passport was included in his Passport and Citizenship Correspondence File that Rich sent to me.
Passport Rejection Letter - Mitchneck, 1921

Simon had applied for a passport to assist his family in Poland.  Because of the "unsettled conditions still prevalent in Poland," passports were restricted without evidence showing the necessity of travel.  Apparently the letter he included wasn't evidence enough.

There were four pages of a densely-written Yiddish letter--along with a full translation--from Simon's sister Mindel.  There was also the original envelope in which the letter was sent.
Envelope sent to Simon Mitchneck

Simon was living in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, when he received his letter.  The return address is from his father Szyja (Shia) in Torczyn, Wolyn, Poland (now Torchin, Volhynia, Ukraine), and the postmark is from Luck (now Lutsk), a nearby city.

A transcription of the translation that was included in the file is as follows, verbatim, which was sent to Simon's brother David along with a follow-on for another brother, Samuel.  My only additions are paragraphs for ease of reading.

Dear Brother Duvid Mitchneck,

I wish to let you know that I, Abraham, and our son are well; may we hear good news from you.  I thank you, brother, that you are interested to know how I am getting along.  Until the seventh year of the war I did not see your handwriting, and I am very happy over your letter.

Brother, we passed through some critical period: four years I was a wanderer; ten months in Likatch, two years in Ludmir, and here times were such that I did not own a single ruble, and there was nothing to do; and when G-d sent us peace, Abraham went home; but he was just like one newly born; he did not know where to turn.  He did not have any money, and mother gave him a little and strangers helped him, and he started to do business.  G-d helped him, and he began to earn.  This occurred before Easter (note: the Yiddish says Passover), 1917.  Then I came home, and stayed 2 months with mother, and then we went to Lutsk.  There we stayed 2 years.  We earned a little; but whatever new authority came in, it rejected the current money; and when the big authority come in, it would not permit business dealings.  (continued below)
A letter sent to Simon's siblings (pages 2 and 3)

Then we come to Tortchin, and moved into Bassi's.  There I stayed a month, then they threw me out of there into the street.  The first day Sikus and I moved into mother's.  There is one room and a kitchen; and there is no other house to rent.  Whoever has a home, occupies it himself, and I am not able to build, things are very dear here. 

Such a time we passed, and with much fright.  May G-d grant us peace that we may know where in the world we are.  I have a fine son 12 years old.  He studies diligently; he is sending a letter from his own hand.  Now please, Duvid, tell me how you are getting along; how your earnings are, how your wife and children are getting along.  As soon as you get my letter, please answer.  Send me your pictures.  We received from you, from Shloima, and Simon 3 letters this week.  No more news.  Good luck to you, your wife and children.  Best regards from me, Abraham, and Bentsi. 

Your sister who hopes for a speedy answer,

Dear brother Shloima Mitchneck,

I wish to let you know that we are well, may G-d grant that we hear good news from you.  We thank you for your small letter.  You gave us much pleasure with the news of yourself and your family.  Thanks go G-d that you are alive and are well; may He grant that in the future we shall hear good news. 

Please the next time to send me a longer letter, and a separate letter to me, and tell all the news--how your earnings are, how you are getting along, also your wife.  Send me your picture of your family.  This will give me much pleasure.  No more news.  Good luck to you and your family.  Best regards from me, Abraham, and Bentsi, to you, your wife and child. 

From your sister, who hopes to get an answer.

Unlike the letters of desperation that I had prior, this didn't demonstrate the family's situation to be bad enough to merit Simon a passport.  But Simon did make it to Poland eventually.  He finally received a passport based on a March 1922 application (where he included some of the letters I've posted about previously), so apparently those painted a dire enough situation for his Poland-based family for Simon to merit a passport.

I'm going to be making a list of other family members who might have applied for passports during the covered time period for the Passport Master Index (1906-1959).  References to records after April 1925 can be requested via FOIA to the Department of State.  Once COVID closures are over, I want to go to College Park to see what else they may have to help tell my family's stories.

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  1. Wow! I had no idea this collection existed -- thank you so much for this post!

  2. Thank you for sharing your resources! Can't wait to study with you someday. Question - Mindel calls her brother Simon "Shloima". That was what my father (1930-1972) was called by his family. His given name was Stanley. Was Shloima a term of endearment or a Yiddish version of Simon?

    1. Shlomo/Shloima is the Hebrew for Solomon. But someone called Shlomo/Shloima in Europe could have taken on any English name--including Simon or Stanley.

  3. Lara, were these on microfilm or actual documents? Do you know if the index can be searched online or only in person? Many thanks.

    1. Actual documents.

      The index is only viewable in person, on microfilm.

  4. I am waiting impatiently for NARA College Park to reopen! I'm trying to get copies of the passports my grandparents were issued in Riga, Latvia after they decided they'd made a mistake in returning to Russia in 1925-26. I wrote to NARA back in June. They told me they could search their records when they reopen. I check every once in awhile. Sigh...