My father was a hoarder. His house was not as bad as those you see on television, with stacks of newspapers lining the walls and furniture balancing on top of each other in the corners, but he certainly kept stuff. So much so that, when he died, I threw out two skips worth of rubbish. And that was after I gave away carloads of old clothes, shoes, toiletries, crockery, cutlery and other household items. He also kept paperwork and letters dating back to the year he immigrated to America – 1949 – as well as every cheque book and every bank book he had from that time.
My parents moved a lot. From when I was born to the time I left home we relocated five times, and that does not include living in temporary housing while they found places for us to live. Before I was born they had moved home at least another five times, if not more. Can you imagine packing up all that paperwork and relocating it so many times?
My mother also kept things. Over time she became the keeper of her parent’s possessions, although the number of documents and letters she kept is nowhere near the number my father had. Many of my maternal grandparent’s possessions and documents were lost when they fled Russia at the end of the Russian Revolution. My grandmother, in her book Upheaval, described how she and her sister had to destroy all of their personal letters before the Bolsheviks could find them. Which is why I was rather surprised to find two Russian chequebooks which belonged to my grandmother’s sister, my great aunt Tata, in my mother’s effects.
My great aunt Tata (or Natalie as she was christened), escaped Russia with my grandparents. However, she made her home in France where she turned 100 years old in 1990. She also became a nun.
Her two chequebooks were, as much as I can make out, issued by the Russian Foreign Trade Bank. One is from the Petrograd branch and the other from Moscow. They are quite a bit larger than the chequebooks I have been used to – measuring approximately 9.5 x 4.5 inches. I cannot make out the cheque butts, however they are each made out for thousands of roubles, the largest amount being over 7000 roubles.
It appears that the Russian Bank for Foreign Trade was amongst the biggest banks in Russia. They invested significantly in the development of heavy industries, including the construction of railways. On the eve of WWI stock in the bank was sold on the Berlin Exchange. Previously, in 1881, Deutsche Bank had acquired a stake in the Russian Bank for Foreign Trade, so there was a historical connection to Germany.
I have no idea how these chequebooks ended up in my mother’s possession. Perhaps they were inadvertently packed into my grandparent’s luggage when they migrated to America from France. Obviously they were no longer of any use to my great aunt. In the end it does not matter how they got to where they did. I am just happy to have found yet another curio from my family’s history.