Because Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to reunite and celebrate with family, I’d like to share with you a thrilling discovery I made about my family last November while visiting Ellis Island. Did you know that 100 million Americans alive today can trace an ancestor back to Ellis Island?
Visitors to the National Park (E.I. is a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument) can tour the beautifully restored great entrance hall where 12 million immigrants passed through between 1892 and 1954.
Downstairs you can research your own ancestor’s arrival in the American Family Immigration History Center. Your $7 buys you an hour to search their computer data base that contains ship passenger manifests for arrivals during that historic immigration period. Over 7 million manifest pages! The data base also includes information on some 6500 ships that brought these immigrants to America, primarily from Europe.
I was thrilled to find my Czech grandfather, Karel Kamis, on the passenger manifest of the SS Kalserin Auguste Victoria that sailed from Cuxhaven, Germany, on April 17, 1913, arriving in New York on April 26th.
The detailed manifest notes on these 3rd class “steerage” passengers are incredible, all hand written I might add! Personal information documented for each passenger as they embarked included: age, occupation, ethnicity,village, relatives, literacy, how much money they had in their pocket, and whether or not they were anarchists.
I also discovered a second immigration by my grandfather. He sailed on the SS Niagara from Bordeaux, France on Sept. 20, 1919 and arrived in NYC on October 1st. The cool thing was that upon his first arrival in 1913, his nationality was listed as Austrian and his ethnicity Bohemian because before WWI there was no Czechoslovakia, the old Kingdom of Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Upon his second arrival in 1919, after the War, his country of origin was listed as Czechoslovakia, because that was when those lands became an independent country. History documented before my very eyes!
Interested in doing your own Ellis Island ancestry search but no plans on the horizon to visit NYC? No problem! You can search online at LibertyEllisFoundation.org. This Thanksgiving, if your family relations are less than stellar and it’s difficult to find dinner conversation that everyone can agree on….try generating some enthusiasm for making a family history discovery. You might just start a new tradition.
Dear readers, do you have some family history and/or heritage you would like to share? We would love to hear about it! Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!