Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ellis Island Oral Histories

When I heard about the new collection of Ellis Island Oral Histories over at Ancestry I knew the chances of my ancestors being there were slim to none.  But, I did decide to check it out and I am glad I did.

I decided to search by the name of the ship they came over on which was the "Madonna."  One hit came up, for a gentleman unrelated to me who came over on the ship a mere two months before my ancestors did.  He also came from a rural area in Italy not far from where my ancestors were from.  Suffice to say, I was very excited.  Some things I learned from the interview that I think might also apply to my ancestors story:
  • The gentleman in the interview took the train to Naples, the port of departure for both him and my ancestors. 
  • The interviewee was only in Naples a day before the ship departed.  For some reason I have always pictured it taking longer to board and leave, perhaps because once they arrived in Ellis Island they were usually detained for some time and went through a long process to enter the country. 
  • The interviewee described, briefly, the ship.  He said there were bunks in the bottom of the ship where the passengers would sleep (steerage class, like my ancestors) as well as regular beds and that some people had an individual room to themselves (I would imagine these were for upper class passengers).
  • The interviewee described his favorite pastime on the ship, which was going up to the front and watching it cut through the water.  Little anecdotes like that make the story all the more real, I think.
  • The voyage took fourteen days.
  • Most people sat around and talked during the voyage as there wasn't much else to do. 
  • Passengers were given good food according to the interviewee and they were fed on trays and it sounds as though they all ate in a communal area regardless of their class.
The interviewee didn't really discuss his time at Ellis Island which disappointed me but I am grateful for what he had to say about the ship and voyage. 

I also searched for people from the same province in Italy as my great-grandparents and only one person came up.  Unfortunately the interviewee's accent was so thick (as was the interviewer's New York drawl) and the recording so old that it was very difficult to understand what was being said.  Next I searched for anyone from Italy who came through Ellis Island in 1920, the same year as my great-grandparents.  I listened to a few of these histories and the stories seem to be similar to each other and filled in what the gentleman above skipped over. 

I was surprised at how moved I was when I heard the description of the ship and the voyage over which would have been the same for my ancestors.  I am happy that I gave these wonderful interviews a listen and feel like my genealogy is richer for it because I now have a better understanding and appreciation for my great-grandparents journey.  I highly recommend checking out this wonderful new collection over at Ancestry, espcially if you have ancestors who came through Ellis Island.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with Ancestry.com, its parent company or any other organizations under the Ancestry.com umbrella.  I was in no way prompted to write this post by Ancestry.com nor did I receive any remuneration for this post.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Leah! I went to this website briefly a few weeks ago, but I didn't think of looking for the ship name like you did. I just went back and put in the name "Orduna" which was the ship my grandmother came on from Leeds, England in 1915. Well, I was surprised to see a woman of about the same age took that same trip from Manchester, England in 1915! Thanks so much for the great idea. I enjoyed listening to the Manchester woman's story very much!

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