Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

15/6/2004

Scots family found by historians

AIMÉE Levant knew enough of her father to answer the taunts of the children at her school that he was not a German soldier, but a Scot – but little more than that. However, after two researchers heard of her quest to discover more about a man she never knew, a vital step has been taken in the Frenchwoman’s hunt for her roots.As reported by the Scotsman

Ms Levant received surprising information about her father’s family this week, thanks to the hard work of two Edinburgh men – Tony Reid, a genealogist, and Alex McKinnon, a researcher. The pair have discovered Ms Levant’s grandparents, Frank and Barbara Mitchell, were Lithuanian immigrants who arrived in Scotland in the early 1900s and settled in Newtongrange, where her grandfather worked as a miner.

The first clues to the origins of Ms Levant’s family were found by Mr Reid, whose company, Scottish Roots, has been based in the capital for 20 years.

After reading Ms Levant’s appeal for information about the family of her father, Jack Joseph Mitchell, in The Scotsman, Mr Reid volunteered his services to help the 62-year-old librarian find her long-lost relatives.

After consulting birth, marriage and death records at the General Register Office, in Edinburgh, Mr Reid was able to confirm that Ms Levant’s father was, indeed, Leading Aircraftman Jack Mitchell, who died in a flying accident over Italy on 6 October, 1945, while he was stationed with the 378 Maintenance Unit RAF, near Naples.

Mr Mitchell was 27 when he fell in love with Ms Levant’s mother, Anne-Marie Thomas, in France, in 1940. They fled south from the invading Nazi forces to the tiny village of Ortaffa, near the Spanish border. There, Mr Mitchell risked his life to get food for Ms Thomas, who was by then pregnant. He was finally able to escape by walking over the Pyrenees with the help of the Resistance.

From Spain, he made his way back to Britain and enlisted in the RAF in Edinburgh in 1941. His daughter, who was born in September 1941, never met her father. But she has longed all her life to trace her Scottish family.

Mr Reid’s first discovery was Jack Mitchell’s death certificate, which confirmed that he had been born in Scotland and gave his age as 32. A search for his birth certificate, however, failed to turn up any leads.

But using the names of Mr Mitchell’s parents, Barbara and Frank – information which he had obtained from Jack’s service records – Mr Reid then made a breakthrough by finding Frank Mitchell’s death certificate. Dated 14 December, 1954, it showed that Jack’s father had changed his name from Francis Mikalaitis. The certificate also showed that Frank Mitchell died in Dalkeith, where he had lived in Allan Terrace.

Armed with the new surname, Mr Reid was able to trace Frank and Barbara’s marriage certificate, which showed they were married on 1 June, 1907, at St David’s Roman Catholic Church in Dalkeith. Barbara’s maiden name was given as Milevicius. The couple lived at Loan Road, in Newtongrange, from 1913 to 1921.

Further research revealed that Jack’s parents had emigrated to Scotland, almost certainly from Lithuania, probably just after the turn of the century. Mr McKinnon, who is researching the history of immigrants from the Baltic states to Newtongrange, was able to confirm that Frank Mitchell was one of many Lithuanians who came to the town during this period to work at the Lady Victoria Colliery, now the site of the Scottish Mining Museum.

Mr Reid then traced Jack’s birth certificate. Born on 11 August, 1913, in Newtongrange, he had been registered under the name Joseph Mikalaitis.

“This is one of the most fascinating searches I have ever undertaken,” Mr Reid said. “When I eventually found the marriage certificate of Aimée’s grandparents, I knew I had made a real breakthrough. It’s hard to convey the tremendous feeling of excitement you get from this kind of discovery – and, of course, the harder the search has been, the more intense the satisfaction.”

Speaking from her home on the outskirts of Paris, Ms Levant said: “I felt in my heart that this Jack Mitchell was my father and they have confirmed it. Everything they have found fits perfectly with what my mother told me, namely that my father’s family were very cosmopolitan and came from a little country near Russia.”

Mr Reid and Mr McKinnon are planning to continue their search to trace Ms Levant’s family and are hoping to find more information about Jack Mitchell’s brother, Frank, born on 4 September, 1911, who was living in Coventry at the time of his father’s death in 1954. On 28 May, 1949, he married Edith Julian, at St Francis’ Church, Bedworth, in England.

They also hope to find out more about Jack’s older sister, Hanislaus Stamana, born in 1908, who married Joseph Keagaliauskas in Paris on 22 September, 1934. In 1948, Hanislaus was living near the Rue Saint-Maur in Paris. Ms Levant remembers her aunt visited her regularly while she was briefly in a children’s home.

Last week, Mr McKinnon discovered that Jack Mitchell also had a younger sister, Alsberta, born on 17 March, 1918.

Ms Levant, whose mother severed all ties with the Mitchell family after a later marriage, possibly fearing her Scottish in-laws might try to take her daughter away, said: “I have always thought of myself as Scottish. I hope so much that someone reading this article might contact The Scotsman with information about my lost family. I would love so very much to meet them.”

SUSAN BELL IN PARIS

http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=679292004

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