For the most part it has been easy for me to find family documents. I am lucky to have inherited birth certificates, school reports, identification documents and death certificates, amongst others, for both sides of my family. Documents I haven’t inherited, I have found online. The difficult part is trying to find the motivation behind some of the decisions my family members made.
Take, for example, my maternal grandparents. In 1920 they fled to France from Russia, escaping the Russian Revolution. They lived in Paris for a short time before finding work in the south of France. I know my mother was born in Nice in 1922. I have her birth certificate. However, I am almost certain my grandparents were at the time working in Le Grau du Roi, not far from Montpellier and some 300kms from Nice. So, why did my grandparents choose to have their daughter born so far from where they were living?
In the few pages of memoir that my mother wrote she says, “When it was time for me to be born, my father brought my mother to Nice. Mama always told me that an angel had flown in the window with me in his arms. For a long time I believed her. I know now that she had had a very difficult birth due to a weakness in her back, as she said she stayed in Nice for 3 weeks with me and I was christened in the Russian Church there.”
By 1925 my grandparents had moved to Paris. They were living in the 16th Arrondissement, not far from the Bois de Boulogne, and my grandfather was working as a chauffeur and driving taxis. Neither of these were an unusual choice of employment for White Army veterans and were occupations where, at least in the 1920’s, a reasonable income could be made.
So far I have not been able to find out if my grandmother worked but I assume she did. I remember she once told me a story of when she was looking for a job in Paris. One day she passed an office which had a sign in the front window advertising for a typist. My grandmother had no idea how to type but needed to find work. So she boldly walked into the office and convinced the manager to give her a trial. Needless to say she failed. She had never seen a typewriter before and had no idea how to even put the paper in! I always admired her for having the confidence (or perhaps desperation) to try her hand at the unknown.
My mother’s memoirs tell me very little else about her childhood. In a previous post here, I wrote about another of her stories but that is about all I know of her younger days in France. The photo above is of my mother, aged 3, in Paris. Despite looking well dressed and cared for, she does not look very happy. Perhaps she did not enjoy sitting still?