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Monday, 28 October 2013

Ellis island: recording the immigrant experience

Ellis Island, where so many Irish emigrants started their new life in the United States, has reopened today, a year after being damaged by SuperStorm Sandy. The storm ripped through New York Harbour, leaving the 27-acre island without electricity and heating, and destroyed the Immigration Museum's climate control system.

Only some parts of the Museum have reopened, and much of the collection of archival documents and historic artifacts will remain in storage until late next Spring.

The accessible areas include the Great Hall, where immigrants were inspected and formally processed, and the Journeys: The Peopling of America 1550-1890 exhibit, which tells of immigration to America before Ellis Island started operating.

In a timely blogpost today, US-based Irish genealogist Joe Buggy brought to my attention a fascinating free database held by Ancestry: New York City, Ellis Island Oral Histories, 1892-1976. I had no idea this existed, yet it holds some 2,000 oral histories from immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, and sixty are interviews with Irish emigrants.

See Joe's blog Townland of Origin for more details about the collection.

I've just listened to a delightful interview with Joseph Patrick Fitzgerald, born 1892, who was brought up on a farm near Portlaoise in Co Offaly with eight sisters and four brothers, and emigrated in 1913. In his luggage was a roll of butter, wrapped in cabbage leaves, a gift from one of his sisters. He was glad it didn't melt!