Archive for the ‘genealogy’ Category

Family reunion

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Sam Roberts in the New York Times brings us the latest update on Ellis Island’s first immigrant, Annie Moore, featuring the incomparable genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak,* who identified two family descendants, Paul Linehan of County Kildare, Ireland, and Michael Shulman of Maryland, and brought them together in New York. Shulman’s take on the United States’ current immigration debate: “As a financial analyst I can say, Do you have any idea of what this country would be like without immigration?”

*Curious about her name? See Ancestry magazine, Sept/Oct 2006, page 28.

Stories of America

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
Great Hall, Ellis Island

Great Hall, Ellis Island

Last fall, the day before Election Day, when a feeling of historic import and tension was in the air, I paid my third visit to the wonderful museum at Ellis Island.

I’d advise visitors to go as early in the day as possible. First of all, you’ve got to stand in line at Castle Clinton to get your ticket for the ferry. Then you have to stand in a long line to go through the airport-style security, although if you buy reserve tickets (rather than flex time) you get a shorter line. (Tickets are $12 for adults; $20 with an audio tour. The museum is free, but you can’t get there without taking the ferry.)

The ferry stops at Liberty Island first. The Statue of Liberty is definitely worth a visit, but Ellis Island can easily take hours by itself; we skipped the statue and stayed on the ferry. And still, we didn’t get to see everything in the museum.

A few facts I learned:

  • The first choice for the location of the immigration station was Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island), but the Statue of Liberty’s sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, considered it a “desecration” of the statue to put an immigration station there. (Peter Morton Coan, Ellis Island Interviews)
  • In 1916, presumed German saboteurs detonated fourteen munition barges at New Jersey’s Black Tom Wharf, less than a mile from Ellis Island, damaging the buildings. I had never heard of this.
  • By the late 19th century, as many as a third of immigrants traveled back and forth (at least once) between the United States and their country of origin.
Processing new arrivals

Processing new arrivals

The museum looks at the immigration experience from several angles. The Peopling of America exhibit, on the first floor, is full of charts and information. Upstairs, there are exhibits about the processing experience for new arrivals, and displays of documents, advertising, and beloved items brought from home. There’s also a genealogical research center.

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

Sustenance for the rest of the journey

You can learn about the restoration of the buildings. You can take a free tour with park rangers or watch a film. And you can eat french fries on the terrace, if you’re brave enough to fight off the gigantic gulls.

But mainly, the attraction of the museum is found in the oral histories, the pictures. The children’s shoes. The joy and the sadness. The reasons people came here, and still come here. There is no single Story of America, of course, but here you will find many, many stories of America.

And, if you go in the winter and take the last boat home, you can join everyone in snapping pictures of this view.


Family history help

Saturday, January 17th, 2009


A theoretical reader of this blog—perhaps the only kind there is—stands a good chance of being interested in family history. If that’s you, and you’re unaware of the resource provided by the local family history center at the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), you should check it out.

You may have political views that color your feelings about Mormons. Perhaps I share those views, but not as strongly as I believe in treating with decency people of all creeds & nations, etc.

In any case, like it or not, the LDS church has collected a vast amount of genealogical records, and you can walk right into their center on Court Street in Brooklyn and do research there, including requesting microfilm. One close ally of Moving Sidewalk just viewed the Mexican parish records of his great-great-grandparents’ marriage. But if they don’t get enough research interest, they’ll close the center. So if you’ve been thinking about doing some genealogical exploration, take advantage of this resource before it’s too late.

To find records, you can bring a name and as much information as you have, and the volunteer staff will show you how to search. Or you can do prep work online at, and bring the numbers of the microfilm files you’d like to order. There is a $5.50 charge to order a microfilm, and they take about a month to arrive in the local office. Then you will have a month or two to visit the center and examine it.

The family history center is located at the corner of Court and Union streets in Cobble Hill (as pictured above), and they’re open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 pm; Fridays from 10 am to 6 pm; and Saturdays from noon to 6 pm.

Start the new year on Main Street (Flushing)

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Flushing, Queens

Jack Eichenbaum will lead a Municipal Art Society tour of Flushing’s Chinatown on New Year’s Day. According to their website, “In less than a generation, this immigrant destination and commercial center has come to rival its Manhattan antecedent. Taiwanese rather than Cantonese at its core, Flushing’s Chinatown plays host to a variety of overseas Chinese groups. Rezoning and greater land availability support unusual real estate developments that include office buildings, hotels, residential condos, specialty shops, cultural institutions and malls. Lunch is available in more than 100 Asian restaurants nearby.”

I took the churches of Flushing tour with Jack Eichenbaum last year, and it was very interesting.

(There’s a late gift idea, too. Municipal Art Society gift certificates are good for walking tours and programs. For more information, call Tamara Coombs, director of programs & tours, at 212-935-3960, ext. 294, or email tcoombs [at]

Meet at 1 pm Thursday, Jan. 1, at St George’s Church, 39th Ave and Main Street. You can take the 7 train to Main Street and walk one block north. $15, $12 MAS members.

New Amsterdam

Monday, November 10th, 2008

It’s time to look back at New York City’s first Europeans, the Dutch. The cultural program 5 Dutch Days 5 Boroughs kicks off at 3:30 pm Wednesday, Nov. 12, at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, 131 E. 10th St.

The events, which run through Sunday, Nov. 16, look at the founding of New Amsterdam, the work of Dutch artists, Dutch-Jewish history, genealogy, and more.

There will be special museum exhibits, open houses, and tours at The Alice Austen House Museum, the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum, the Anne Frank Center, the Frick Collection, the Holland Society, Lefferts House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Museum of the City of New York, the Vander Ende–Onderdonk House, and Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum.

In addition, there will be a series of documentaries on 20th-century Dutch-Jewish history, walking tours of New Amsterdam, lectures and readings, genealogy research assistance, an introduction to Dutch conversation, a Dutch worship service, and a concert by Dutch baritone Hans Pieter Harman.

Check out the full schedule here.

Scandinavian East Coast Museum

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Sunday’s Times City section has an interview by Jennifer Bleyer with Victoria Hofmo, who grew up in Bay Ridge in a family of Norwegian and Danish descent. She’s been collecting material for the Scandinavian East Coast Museum, which she founded, and now she’s trying to find a home for it in Brooklyn—or perhaps off the coast of Brooklyn. A century ago, there were so many Norwegians in Bay Ridge and lower Sunset Park that, Hofmo says, they called Eighth Avenue Lapskaus Boulevard, after a traditional beef stew.

Although the museum’s home is virtual at the moment, the site includes a forum for Scandinavian genealogical research, a block-by-block map of old Eighth Avenue as well as vintage pictures, a page of history, and a gift shop.

This is just the kind of thing to make an immigration nerd like me jump up and down. I wish Ms. Hofmo all the best and I’ll be sure to report any further developments about the museum.