In being the genealogy coordinator at our library, I hear many stories from the people I am providing assistance to as they embark on their genealogy research journey. I hear many stories from those in attendance at our monthly genealogy program about their ancestors.
One recurring story I often hear mentioned to me from these stories is that researchers like to share with me that the name of their ancestor was changed when they disembarked from the ship that brought them to the United States at Ellis Island!
First, I like to expand their knowledge and prepare them for future research efforts by letting them know that Ellis Island (New York) may be the point of arrival for them but they should be aware it is not the only port of arrival of our ancestors. There can also be Boston, Philadelphia, Galveston, New Orleans, Baltimore and others. The port of New York, both Ellis Island and Castle Garden that predated Ellis Island, often accounted for about 50% of the arrivals of our ancestors.
Secondly, I try to politely indicate to them that the likelihood of the name of their ancestor being changed upon arrival is literally zero, especially at Ellis Island.
Family stories are going to be just that. Researchers need to look at the historical context of the times as to how passengers were documented and processed.
Much of the hype lately in the genealogy community about “name-changing” at Ellis Island stems from a recent episode of the “Genealogy Roadshow” during which one of the hosts/experts seemed to have misspoken and let open the possibility that names were changed when in fact they were not.
Dick Eastman had a very well-written article about the subject of names “not” being changed at Ellis Island and felt the need to review and update this article and re-post it on his blog to allay any confusion of the belief on how frequently ancestors’ names were changed at Ellis Island upon their arrival.
Here is a link to Dick Eastman’s wonderful update on the topic that may make you want to reconsider the stories you may heard about your own ancestors and how their names were changed.
“NO, Family Names Were Not Changed at Ellis Island” By Dick Eastman October 2, 2013
Read his article and the copious amounts of details on the process our immigrant ancestors underwent as they left their country and arrived at Ellis Island.
You may want to reconsider your stories passed down to you as an example that they may not necessarily be true or they may have been embellished over the time that the story has a life of its own independent of the facts surrounding it.
Oh well, the story was good while it lasted!
Now, “just the facts ma’m”!
Schaumburg Township District LIbrary