I first read about the International Tracing Service about a year ago when searching for more information about post-World War Two Displaced Persons Camps. According to their website, their history starts in London in 1943, as a tracing bureau for people missing due to war. After the war, they continued to work to identify and register displaced persons, liberated prisoners and forced labourers. They gained their current name while under the auspices of the International Refugee Organization in 1948.
From their website, I had been under the impression that they only held documents relating to victims of Nazi terror. However, a couple of months ago, one of my readers here informed me that they hold documents on other displaced persons as well, including Latvian DPs, and that they had been able to provide her with a lot of useful documentation.
So at the beginning of January, I submitted information requests for both of my grandmothers. I received a response in mid-February, wherein were full-colour copies of several documents relating to both of them, listing places they had lived, family profiles, where they wanted to go next, and so on.
What information did I learn? Most of the information on my maternal grandmother I had already known, but it did provide some other addresses she had lived at in Denmark. It also indicated her desire to resettle in Switzerland. For my paternal grandmother, Zenta Lūkina, I learned more – I learned that, along with her husband Juris Celmiņš and her parents Augusts and Lilija (nee Šīrs), she departed for Canada from Bremerhaven, Germany on October 13, 1948 aboard the USS General W. C. Langfitt. Her family’s intent was to move to Canada. A “Resettlement Record” for her father, Augusts Lūkins, indicates his primary occupation as “Lawyer”, and secondary occupations of “Occupational Interviewer” and “Gardener”. I never knew that Augusts was a gardener! The family had been housed at DP Camp Noor in Eckernförde, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.
These documents have, however, presented a conflict of information in terms of my maternal grandmother’s port of emigration. Here, it says that the SS Samaria departed for Canada from Cuxhaven, but her Canadian citizenship application states that this ship departed from Bremerhaven, some 40 kilometres south. In everything I’ve read about emigration via German ports, these two, while being near to each other, have always been considered separate from one another. My grandmother and great-aunt say that they departed from Hamburg, which lends itself to the Cuxhaven version, since Cuxhaven was the official port from which Hamburg’s ships sailed. But then why write Bremerhaven? Did the ship sail from Cuxhaven to Bremerhaven, and stay in port long enough for it to be considered to have departed from Bremerhaven by Canadian authorities, but officially have departed from Cuxhaven according to German authorities?
That mystery aside, I will be writing to the ITS again for information on my grandfathers, to fill in more pieces of my family’s post-war puzzle.
The service is free of charge. While it could provide information for anyone who had family members in DP camps after the war, it is of particular use to those who are just starting their research into their Latvian ancestors, and may not know where in Latvia they came from. Information cards list all of this information, which will pinpoint the necessary places in Latvia to continue the search.
Provide as much information as possible to make the search easier – any names, places and dates you may have. You might just be able to find the answers to the mysteries you have been seeking!
Have you written to the ITS? What kind of results did you get?