Friday, November 25, 2011

A Passport Goes Home

My sister, who works in a university library, contacted me several months ago about an original 1921 U.S. passport that had been in her office for several years.  It had come with some donated materials.  She didn't know what to do with the passport, but she thought it was cool and knew it shouldn't just be thrown away, so she asked me for suggestions.  I told her I would try to find a descendant to whom the passport could be returned as a family heirloom.

The passport was for a married couple.  They had gone to China because the husband had a job teaching.  They had filed for an extension, and the extension included their baby daughter who had been born abroad.  I found the family in the 1930 U.S. census and discovered the couple had had three daughters.  Of course, I had trouble finding the daughters because they had married and changed their names!  I did discover the family had moved to California and found death dates for both parents and one of the daughters, but then got stuck.

I looked for family trees online and found three that looked credible.  I contacted the owners of the trees and all three got back to me, which was a pleasant surprise.  What also surprised me is that the first two to respond were not related at all to the families whose trees they had posted.  Is it common for people to post family trees of people they're not connected to?

On Thanksgiving Day I received a message from the owner of the third tree, who actually is related to the family.  Amazingly enough, the young daughter shown on the passport is still alive, now 88 years old!  Apparently, this passport may be the only surviving documentation from the time showing that she was born in China.  I'm going to mail the passport to her next week.

It feels so good to be able to send a piece of a someone's history back to her!  I don't know how it ended up with papers donated to a university, but I hope it stays in the family now.


  1. This is such a great story! More like this and you will have another great speaking gig!

  2. Thank you, Sheri! I do have more orphan heirlooms I am trying to send home.

  3. That's a great title for a book: "Orphaned Heirlooms: Returning the past to those who are present."

  4. That is a great title, Carol! Who knows, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak may decide she likes it and ask to use it.

  5. Who is Megan Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak? Or should I know this and have just missed too many of your posts?

  6. Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has been returning orphaned heirlooms for many more years than I: .

  7. It's wonderful that you could get the passport back to the family and I've enjoyed following your blog since I found it. Unfortunately my blog posting has slowed as my research has (temporarily) slowed. If you're interested in another passport, see . Nathan Lutzky is my great-grandfather's brother and until I began my research 13 years ago all I knew was that he "died young". Turns out he died at 40 which is young but not my first thought when I heard "died young".

  8. Sharon, thank you! I am happy to hear you enjoy my blog. You have a beautiful passport yourself. I like the timeline you created to explain Nathan's travels. His passport has a lot more stamps than the orphaned one I returned yesterday (and since the visa stamps are in Chinese characters, I can't tell where they went anyway)!

    I know of only one old passport in my family. A cousin in New York has a European passport for my great-great-grandfather, his second wife, and three of his children. Apparently it was not the passport he used to come to the U.S., however, because it's dated a year earlier than when he arrived, and he came with only his two youngest sons. The third child listed on the passport came to the U.S. ten years later, and the second wife stayed in Europe. So the passport is an interesting artifact of a planned trip that didn't occur.

  9. Update on the passport: I talked to the "baby" today! She is 89 years old and lives here in Oakland. She was so excited to receive the passport that she called to say thank you. She also confirmed that the passport is the only document she knows of from the time period that verifies her birth in Peking. I feel all warm and fuzzy now. :)

  10. thank you for returning the passport and for sharing the story.

    i'm going to take
    Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle, but you don't have the box top, so you don't know what the picture is supposed to look like. As you start putting the puzzle together, you realize some pieces are missing, and eventually you figure out that some of the pieces you started with don't actually belong to this puzzle.

    for a .sig for a few days. excellent analogy! getting rid of those old puzzle pieces is a real problem, since i did cut them earlier so they would fit right!

  11. I'm happy to hear you like my analogy. It has certainly been the best way I have found to describe to people what it's like to do family history research. Sorry to hear you forced some of your old pieces to fit, but the best of luck in finding the right pieces!

  12. What a wonderful story! I'm so glad that you were able to find the right family and return the passport to the person.

    1. Thank you! I was particularly happy to be able to return it to the person whose photo was on it.


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