In the 1950s, my grandfather travelled to the former
Soviet Union to participate in fur auctions. When my
brothers and I were kids, my grandfather used to tell
us how he was followed by the KGB on his way >from the
hotel to the synagogue in Leningrad.
On a lark, I decided to send a FOIA ("Freedom of
Information Act") request to the FBI and CIA to see if
they had any files on my grandfather. The letter took
about thirty minutes to write (there are sample FOIA
requests on the websites of both agencies) and the
total cost of the request was the price of a stamp.
Within a week I received my first letters >from the CIA
and FBI telling me that they were reviewing the
request and asking for additional information. (My
wife who saw the mail first said to me "oh my god
Todd, what are you doing now!" -- she isn't as
interested in family history as I am.
A few weeks ago a received a letter >from the CIA
saying that they had no files on my grandfather. So I
figured that this wasn't going to lead anywhere.
That's okay, I didn't really expect anything.
Yesterday, I got a big envelope >from the FBI, which
contained his whole case file, including interviews
with my grandfather (which discuss in detail his trips
to the Soviet Union) and evaluations as to whether he
might be able to serve as a "potential security
informant" or "double agent." The file reads like a
John Le Carre novel. Ultimately, the FBI decided that
he would not be a good spy because he didn't speak
enough Russian and was only in the Soviet Union for
2-3 weeks per year.
My grandfather died a couple of years ago so I
couldn't discuss this with him. My grandmother never
knew about his contact with the FBI -- or so she says!
Did this FOIA request get me any new genealogical
information? Not really. But it did provide a lot of
detail about a part of my grandfather's life that I
never really knew about. And it also refreshed my
grandmother's own memories, which is also helpful. So
I guess that the lesson >from all of this is that there
is a lot of interesting information in unexpected
places and all you need to do is ask.
Searching: BRAUDE (Telz, Alsiad, Plotel), GLASS (Sandomierz, Montreal),
ROSENBERG (Skaryszew, Montreal), GROSSER (Sieniawa, Przemysl, Jaroslaw), LAMM
(Sieniawa, Przemysl, Jaroslaw), FRANKFORT (Sieniawa), ARFA (Biezun, Zuromin,
Sierpc, Plock), MAJ ((Biezun, Zuromin, Sierpc, Plock).