The Varian Fry genealogical research papers contains personal papers belonging to members of Varian Fry's extended family dating from 1829 to 1921, correspondence relating to Fry's genealogical research dating mainly from 1958 through 1962, family photographs, and a comprehensive index to the research. The family papers series is comprised of correspondence, notebooks, account books, diaries, and personal miscellany belonging to members of Varian Fry's extended family, particularly the Duncan, Fry and White families. Fry's research paid particular attention to his paternal great-grandfather, Francis Duncan, born in Scotland in 1810. Duncan, a mason, emigrated to the United States in 1832 and worked on such notable buildings as the "Marble Palace," home of A.T. Stewart & Company (and later, the New York Sun), and later became the director of the Peter Cooper Fire Insurance Company. Other relations include Ambrose Lipscomb White, a prominent New York City surgeon and founding member of the New York Academy of Medicine, and his son Charles Belden White, a surgeon and Major in the Union Army during the Civil War. Fry's genealogical research is chronicled through correspondence with churches; local, state and federal records bureaus; historical societies; and genealogical societies. In some instances, photostats and facsimiles of vital records are present. The body of correspondence between Fry and his cousins Jessie Bateman White and Elizabeth Richardson further illuminates family histories and relationships. Photographs of Fry's family date from the 1860s through the 1960s, and many include annotations from Jessie Bateman White. Fry meticulously indexed and cross-referenced his research, as well as the personal papers collected from his family. The index traces his research through his own correspondence and family papers, as well as from such sources as vital records; newspaper, magazine and broadsheet articles; military records; legal documents; and parish registers.
Varian Fry (1907-1967) was a Harvard-educated journalist who travelled to Marseilles in 1940 on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee in order to aid in the escape of endangered citizens, predominantly artists, writers, and intellectuals, from occupied France. Fry assisted over 2000 people in fleeing the Third Reich and earned the nickname "the American Schindler." Among those whose exits he facilitated were Hannah Arendt, Jean Arp, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, André Breton, Max Ophuls, and Marcel Duchamp. In the last years of his life, Fry assigned himself to the task of family genealogist, and began collecting family papers and researching his family's origins both in the United States and abroad.