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article imageGeneologists Can Now Tap Into Ellis Island Website

By Thomas Burmeister     May 16, 2001 in Technology
NEW YORK (dpa) - All that's known about Edith Miller is the name of the ship which brought her to the New World. At the time, her name was spelled "Mueller" in the German fashion and not the Anglicised spelling it later became.

It is also know that she went to the state of Pennsylvania, where she married a man by the name of Benjamin Shank.

In the case of one Amalie Mayer, she went much further, finding a home in California, While Wilhelm - later Anglicised to "William" Schulze ended up in the Midwestern state of Missouri.

Naturally, the Muellers, along with others with variations on the names of Meier or Schulze or Schmidt made the largest group of those Germans who once arrived in America by the tens of thousands via the immigration point Ellis Island.

So the search for ancestors with such common names in the Ellis Island archives was a real test of a person's patience.

But now, such a search might take only a matter of a few minutes, if more is known than just the person's last name, for example the place where the immigrant came from.

After eight years of painstaking work by 12,000 volunteer workers who copied old documents onto computer hard discs, an electronic data bank can now provide quick information on more than 17 million people who towards the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century arrived from Europe to their new homeland via New York.

For a small fee, people researching their ancestral roots can get not only a copy of the immigration documents of their great-great aunt Edith or great grandfather William, but also a photograph of the ship on which they made their Atlantic Ocean crossing.

The service is in such great demand that visitors are advised to make a telephone reservation for when they can use one of the personal computers. But this bottleneck will soon be eased somewhat, thanks to a new website.

All that is now needed is a PC with access to the Internet in order to tap into the website "www.ellisislandrecords.org" to carry out exactly the kind of research one would do in person at the immigration museum on Ellis Island itself.

This, of course, depends on whether the server will be able to withstand the expected rush of search hits. Alone in the United States, 113 million people are now researching their family histories.

Those who have found the name they are searching for in the well-organised mass of personal identification data can then tap into links of other websites ranging from church registry records to the home pages of hobby geneologists.

With a bit of luck, a person can trace the most important steps in the life of his or her ancestors - and their descendents - in America.

But there will also be some bitter disappointments. The data bank speaks the cold language of the U.S. immigration authorities. After some names there will be such terms "mentally ill" or "political undesirable" in explaining why an immigrant was turned away.

And for many an Atlantic traveller life not only began on Ellis Island but also ended there. After the two weeks' ocean crossing in the cramped quarters of the third-class passenger hold, thousands of people became so sick and weak that they soon died.
www.ellisislandrecord.org
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