Ship: USS General Harry Taylor

The USNS General Harry Taylor

The USNS General Harry Taylor

The USS General Harry Taylor was built in 1943 by Kaiser Co. Inc in Richmond, California. She was named for the US Army Chief of Engineers Harry Taylor.

Like the Langfitt, she was originally a troop transport during the war. When the war was over, the Navy decommissioned her. But on March 1, 1950, the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) reactivated her to help transport refugees and troops from Europe, back to the Americas or elsewhere in the world.

In 1957, she carried thousands of Hungarian refugees to Australia during the Hungarian Revolution for a year, then was deactivated once again in 1958. In 1961 she was transferred to the US Air Force and renamed the USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. In 1964, the Navy acquired her and she was designated T-AGM-10, as a Missile Range Instrumentation Ship, carrying out duties in both Atlantic and Pacific waters until 1993, when she was stricken from the Naval register.

In 1998, the movie “Virus”  shot some scenes aboard the ex-General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. The ship was supposed to be a Russian vessel known as the Akademik Vladislav Volkov.

On Wednesday, May 27, 2009, she was sunk off the coast of Florida, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, used as an artificial reef. You can still see some of the Cyrillic lettering painted on the hull from the movie filming to this day.

The USS General Harry Taylor carried Janis Akerfelds and his family, minus his eldest two sons, to Berthoud, Colorado, USA on August 12, 1950 from Bremerhaven, Germany.

a diver explores the sunken General Hoyt Vandenburg

a diver explores the sunken General Hoyt Vandenburg

Ancestor Story: Arvids’ Labor Service

A closer look at Arvids’ IRO Application Form (which was written in pencil and is quite hard to read. tells me he may have been in the 7318 Latvian Labor Service Corps. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about this particular unit… I think it is a misspelling of 7132.

A snippet from Arvids Akerfelds' IRO Application Form

A snippet from Arvids Akerfelds' IRO Application Form

The writing at the bottom may provide some clue as to why he returned to Germany illegally from Belgium as well… but it is barely legible.

According to one of my listed resources on the Labor Service, the following were Latvian units:
8252 LS Co (Engr Const) LATVIAN Bad Nauheim (Janis Akerfelds)
8717 LS Co (Engr Const) LATVIAN Großauheim
8850 LS Co (Engr Const) LATVIAN Großauheim (Arturs Ziverts)
7132 LS Co (Engr Const) LATVIAN Mannheim (Arvids Akerfelds)
7566 LS Co (Engr Dump Trk) LATVIAN Mannheim (Karlis Vinakmens)
8361 LS Co (Engr Const) LATVIAN Mannheim

 

http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/us-army-labor-service/

Lockheed Super Constellation DALID

 

The plane on which Arvids travelled to Canada was a Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation called D-ALID. Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft (Lufthansa – still a large European company today) flight no. 420/25 departed Frankfurt, Germany on January 25, 1957, crossed the Atlantic and landed in New York (LaGuardia?) How was he able to take a plane? Surely this was not typical of DP’s at the time. I’d really like to find out how and why this came to be at some point.
 
Here is the Passenger List, found with Ancestry.com
“TRWOV” means “Transfer without VISA”. “YUL” is the Montreal airport code. He is the only person on a relatively small passenger list bound for Montreal. His connecting flight from New York to Montreal appears to have been flight 323/26.

Timeline: Displaced Akerfelds Family

The Akerfelds finally left their home at Skrundenieki in October of 1944, following the German army’s retreat west as the Soviet army pushed them back across Latvia. Both Akerfelds and Ziverts families had seen uncles and their families arrested and deported to Siberian gulags by the Soviets, and wanted nothing to do with the Soviet regime. One of the types of documents I received from the ITS was a questionnaire filled out by DP’s explaining why they couldn’t be repatriated to Latvia. Every one of the Akerfelds/Ziverts family who filled out this from stated “I do not like to live under the present communist regime”. Arturs Ziverts and Janis Akerfelds added in that their brothers had been arrested and deported by the Soviets.

Snippet from an IRO Application form

The Akerfelds’ Displaced Persons Timeline:
Early Oct 1944 – Forced to flee Skrundenieki by retreating German army. Fled to Liepaja, Latvia
23 Oct 1944 - Forcibly evacuated from Liepaja to German controlled Gotenhaufen, where they were put in a camp for foreign workers
Late Oct 1944  - Tranferred to a gathering camp for foreign workers at Kelsterbach, Hesse, Germany
Nov 1944 – In Echzell, Hesse, Germany where Janis and the older children would be employed at a sawmill owned by a man named Hermann Mogk III
17 Dec 1944 – third last Akerfelds sibling born in Echzell
May 1945 – Allied forces liberated and occupied Germany at this point. The Akerfelds crew were in a DP Camp in Wiesbaden, the capital of the American occupied state of Hesse where Janis worked for the US Army.
Oct 1945 – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), takes responsibility for the care of all persons displaced by the war
Feb 1946 – Family transferred to Bidingen, Hesse, Germany
4 May 1946 – Family transferred to Dieburg DP Camp, in Hesse
21 Oct 1946 – Family transferred to Darmstadt DP Camp, where Janis was employed as a bricklayer by the US Army
28 Oct 1946 – Second last Akerfelds sibling born in Darmstadt
1947 – Arvids Akerfelds departed for Belgium to work as a coal miner
Jun 1948 – Family transferred to Neustadt, Hesse Germany. Janis working as a bricklayer for the International Refugee Organization
29 Aug 1948 – youngest Akerfelds sibling is born in Neustadt
Sep 1948 – Janis employed by US Labour Service Corps in Bad Nauheim, Hesse. I do know that a 8252 Latvian LSC was stationed here
29 Oct 1948 - Family traversed through a control centre in Fulda, Hesse
May 1949 – Family transferred once again to Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany where Janis worked as a bricklayer for the International Refugee Organization. Likely the eldest son Arturs met his future wife Luise Gottle here at this time. The DP camp here was called Hochfeld
Aug 1949 – Arvids Akerfelds returns to Germany, turns up at Hanau DP Camp, Hesse.
12 Aug 1950 – Family departed Bremerhaven in northern Germany aboard the SS General Harry Taylor, bound for the USA
15 Sep 1950 – Arturs Akerfelds married Luise Gottle in Augsburg, Germany
27 Feb 1951 – Arturs Akerfelds was released from IRO care to join the German economy
25 Jan 1957 – Arvids Akerfelds departs Germany from Frankfurt, Hesse.

Resource: Augsburg Stadtarchiv

Another resource I have tapped into recently has been the Augsburg State Archives in Germany. Before I contacted the archives, I already knew that Arvids’ eldest brother Arturs Akerfelds had, during their time in Germany, fallen in love and married a native German girl named Luise Gottle. When the time came for his family to be resettled in the US, he applied for resettlement as well but was denied (likely due to Luise not being a displaced person).
I had always wondered what had happened to Arturs, especially since he was recorded as being an “invalid” after losing his right hand in some kind of accident. But apparently he joined the German workforce in 1951.
I wrote to the Augsburg archives and received Arturs and Luise’s marriage information, Arturs’ death date, and the birthdates and names of their 3 children. For tracking purposes, I was lucky that Arturs remained in Augsburg for the rest of his life, so he was relatively easy to find.
Note that the archives charged me 20.00 EU to send me this information, so be prepared to pay a fee if you ask for records from an archives!

Roadblock: Dzerve

Jule Dzerve was Arvids Akerfelds’ maternal grandmother. She was born December 29, 1877 in Purmsati pagast, not far from Nikrace and Embute, but was baptised in the Gramzdas parish church. “Jenny” is a German translation of the Latvian “Dzenija”.

Jule Dzerve's baptismal record in the Gramzdas Lutheran church book
Jule Dzerve’s baptismal record in the Gramzdas Lutheran church book

Her parents were Jukums Dzerve and Lawise Bittner, who were married in Gramzdas that same year.

Jukums Dzerve and Lawise Bittner's marriage record in the Gramzdas Lutheran church book

Jukums Dzerve and Lawise Bittner

Being that they were married in 1877, it could be assumed that they were around the age of 20 at the time, as was customary. So they would have been born around 1857. Unfortunately, a lot of church books are missing from this time period on Raduraksti, with only a few years available.
I could begin scouring the 1895 Russian census for Jukums and Lawise, assuming they stayed in Gramzdas. This will be time consuming, and will only give me birthdates of Jukums and Lawise, and maybe locations. Then hopefully those church books are still around, and will list their parents names. Their parents were alive during the naming process of Latvians….

Places of Interest: Skrundenieki

Farmsteads in Latvia were given names, much like some farms you might find in the Canadian countryside today (Green Acres, Mapleview Farms, etc). The names were chosen in a similar way as well. They were named after nearby surroundings, people, type of farming, etc.

“Skrundenieki” was a farmstead in modern-day Nikrace pagast, olden-time Brinkenhof/Gross Altdorf estate located in the Aizpute district of the province of Kurzeme. The name means “people from Skrunda”, Skrunda being the largest nearby city. (Possibly a clue that the original owners were from Skrunda? I have yet to prove.) It was listed as “vecsaimnieciba” or old, established farm on the census form of 1935, and was spring-fed. The farm existed since at least the early 1800′s and probably even earlier.

My great-great grandfather Indriks Ziverts owned Skrundenieki at one point. The earliest I can prove his residence there is 1894. The baptism of his first child has he and his family recorded as residing there. During Latvia’s independence in the 1920′s, laws were passed that allowed Latvian peasants to purchase property much more easily, and it is perfectly possible that this is when Indriks would have become the owner of Skrundenieki.

Prior to 1925, Nikrace as a pagast did not exist, and the area was known as Brinki, from the nearby Brinkenhof manor/estate. (Side note: the old building that was Brinkenhof manor is currently for sale)

The residents of Nikrace attended Embute parish Lutheran church, (now in ruins) and the children would have attended Nikrace pamatskola (elementary school). At least 3 generations of my Latvian ancestors lived at Skrundenieki. My great-grandfather, Arturs Zīverts inherited the farm after his father Indriks passed, and most of his children were born there as he was. In October of 1944, as WWII ripped through Latvia, Arturs and family were forced to abandon Skrundenieki in order to flee for safety.

Nikrace pagast was subsequently savaged by the Soviets, and they constructed a nuclear missile silo and bunker there. (Pictures of the Soviet structures)

It should be noted that place names in Latvia typically have a German counterpart, or “exonym”. Depending on the time period of a document you may come across, you might find the German version, or a Russian Cyrillic translation of the German name.