Note: The information in this archived copy was accurate on the date of publication. Since then, Web sites have appeared and disappeared, companies have been merged and many other facts have changed. You may find references in this archived copy that are no longer accurate.
EOGN: Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter
A Weekly Summary of Events and
Vol. 6 No. 20 – May 14, 2001
Past issues of this Newsletter
Copyright© 2001 by Richard W. Eastman. All rights reserved.
If you do contact any of the companies or societies mentioned in this newsletter, please tell them that you read about their services in this newsletter.
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Off to Portland
- Off to Portland
The annual U.S. National Genealogical Society’s "Conference in the States" will be held this week in Portland, Oregon. I will be at the conference and look forward to this major event. Many genealogy vendors announce their new products or services at this conference; I hope to write about those announcements in next week’s newsletter.
If you are within traveling distance of Portland, you might want to join us at this major conference. You can read my recent article about the 2001 Conference in the States at:http://www.ancestry.com/library/view/columns/eastman/3749.asp. To read the entire conference brochure online, check out: http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/confa.htm.
As always, next week’s newsletter is subject to the whims of laptop computers, wireless modems and airline schedules. Do not be surprised if next week’s newsletter arrives in your mailbox a bit later than usual.
- The Myth of Ellis Island Name Changes
I was involved with a series of e-mail exchanges this week with a reader of this newsletter. He claimed that his ancestor had her name changed at Ellis Island. I pointed out that such a change was unlikely, despite all the claims we hear of such name changes. The ensuing e-mail exchange got me thinking that perhaps others have the same misconceptions that "the family name was changed at Ellis Island." I decided to amplify a bit on the subject in this newsletter.
Immigrants’ surnames were changed thousands of times, but professional researchers have found that name changes were rare at Ellis Island (or at Castle Island, which was the New York port of entry prior to Ellis Island's opening). The myth of name changes usually revolves around the concept that the immigrant was unable to communicate properly with the English-speaking officials at Ellis Island. However, this ignores the fact that Ellis Island employed hundreds of translators who could speak, read, and write the immigrants’ native tongues. It also ignores all the documentation that an immigrant needed to have in order to be admitted into the U.S.
In order to be admitted into the United States as an immigrant in the late nineteenth century or later, one had to have paperwork. Each immigrant had to have proof of identity. This would be a piece of paperwork filled out in "the old country" by a clerk who knew the language, and the paperwork would be filled out in the local language, not in English (unless the "old country" was an English-speaking country). The spelling of names on these documents generally conformed to local spellings within the immigrant’s place of origin. Even if the person traveling was illiterate and did not know how to spell his or her own name, the clerks filling out the paperwork knew the spelling of that name in the local language or could sound it out properly according to the conventions of the language used. Also, in many countries one had to obtain an exit visa in order to leave. Again, exit visas had to be filled out by local clerks who knew the language, and exit visas were written in the local language.
A ship's passenger list had to be prepared by the captain of the ship or his representatives before the ship left the old country. This list was created from the travelers’ documents. These documents were created when the immigrant purchased his or her ticket. It is unlikely that anyone at the local steamship office was unable to communicate with this man. Even when the clerk selling the ticket did not speak the language of the would-be emigrant, someone had to be called in to interpret. Also, required exit visas and other paperwork had to be examined by ticket agents before a ticket would be sold. The name was most likely recorded with a high degree of accuracy at that time.
Next, the ship’s captain or designated representative would examine each passenger’s paperwork. The ship’s officials might not know the immigrant’s language, but they had to inspect the exit visa and the proof of identity. They knew that immigrants would not be accepted into Ellis Island without proper documentation and, if the paperwork wasn't there, the passengers would be sent back home at the shipping company's expense! You can believe that the ship’s owners went to great lengths to insure the accuracy of the paperwork, including names, places of birth and travel plans. It is believed that many more people were turned away at the point of embarkation than were ever turned away at Ellis Island. In other words, most of those without proper documentation never got on board the ship.
When the ship arrived at Ellis Island, the captain or his representative would disembark first with the passenger list. The Ellis Island officials would then bring in interpreters to handle the interrogations. These interpreters were usually earlier immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants, and they all knew how to speak, read and write the language of the immigrants.
The usual immigrant processing time was one to three days. During this time, each immigrant was questioned about his/her identity, and all the required documentation was examined in detail. Keep in mind that this was not a quick two or three-minute conversation such as we have today at international airports. In the days of steamships, the Ellis Island officials had the luxury of time. They could make leisurely examinations.
The questioning at Ellis Island would be done in the immigrant's native tongue. While the immigrant often was illiterate, the interpreter doing the questioning always could read and write the language involved. Ellis Island employed interpreters for Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian and all of the European languages. The immigration center in San Francisco did the same for all the Chinese dialects as well as Japanese, Korean, and many more Oriental languages. Other immigration centers in Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Galveston and elsewhere followed similar procedures.
Anyone who did not have proper paperwork (in the native language) showing the correct name and place of birth was sent back. Many thousands were sent back for identification reasons or for medical reasons or because they did not have sponsors in the U.S. Most of the people who came through Ellis Island did so with correct paperwork showing the correct or at least plausible spellings of their real names in their original language.
There were a very few exceptions, however. Occasionally war refugees were admitted without much documentation. This was especially true in 1945 and 1946. A few others succeeded in falsifying documents in order to gain admittance when they could not be admitted under their true identities. Occasionally a child was admitted under the surname of a stepfather when the name of the natural father would have been more appropriate. Nobody can document the number of exceptions, but most professional researchers believe that the number of exceptions was very small.
Once settled into their new homes, however, anything could happen. Millions of immigrants had their names changed voluntarily or by clerks or by schoolteachers who couldn't pronounce or spell children's names. Some immigrants changed their names in order to obtain employment. Many immigrants found it easier to assimilate into American culture if they had American-sounding names, so they gladly went along with whatever their neighbors or schoolteachers called them.
However, the records at Ellis Island remained in the original language.
For more information about the myth that "the family name was changed at Ellis Island," look at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization’s Web page at:http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/history/articles/NameEssay.html. For information from a genealogist’s viewpoint, look at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~rwguide/lesson8.htm and at http://jewishwebindex.com/language1.htm (about a third of the way down the page).
- 1901 Census Project Online
I have written several times in the past about the plans of the Public Record Office in England to digitize the 1901 census records and to make them available online. Those articles are available at:http://www.ancestry.com/columns/eastman/eastmar16-99.htm and at: http://www.ancestry.com/columns/eastman/eastjune08-99.htm.
The Public Record Office in London obviously has been watching the rapid growth of genealogy on the Internet and is taking steps to be prepared for their next major release. British laws require that census records be kept private for 100 years before being published. The next major event will be the release of the 1901 census records in the year 2002. However, the Record Office already has a pilot version online today.
The Public Record Office launched the pilot project using the 1891 returns for Norfolk registration districts. This Website is a pilot for the release of the whole of the 1901 Census for England and Wales. The records will be made available on the Internet on the first working day of 2002. The pilot project that is available today consists of the digitized returns for the county of Norfolk from the 1891 Census. The Census reveals who was living at a particular address in each city, town and village on census night (5th April 1891).
Quoting from a press release issued by the 1901 Census Project Team at the Public Record Office:
I spent a bit of time on this new Web site and found it easy to use. The only mandatory item required for searches is the surname. However, you can also narrow the search by specifying any of the following:
You also can specify either an exact match of the spelling of the name or widen the search to include all similar-sounding names.
If the above is insufficient, you may switch to an "Advanced Searches" form that gives you extra fields to enter search terms and more control over the synonym and "sounds like" facilities on first and last names. The extra search terms include occupation, where born, gender, relationship to the head of household, address and marital status.
Keep in mind that this is a pilot project. One of its primary purposes is to find any software bugs or unexpected conditions. Do not be surprised if you encounter a few. A feedback form is available on the Web site for reporting difficulties you may have encountered.
The new pilot project was shown to the public at the Society of Genealogists’ Fair in London on May 5 and 6. In addition, it will also be shown on June 23rd at the Yorkshire Family History Fair, York Racecourse, and also on July 7 at the South West Area Group of Family History Societies Family History Fair, Winter Gardens, Weston-Super-Mare.
For more information, or to access the 1901 Census Project Pilot Project database, look at: http://census.pro.gov.uk
- US Army Military History Institute’s Photograph Database
One great resource that many genealogists overlook is the U.S. Army’s Military History Institute Special Collections Branch. The mission of the Military History Institute (MHI) is to preserve the Army's history by ensuring access to historical research materials. The MHI library contains over nine million items relating to military history, including: books, periodicals, photographs, manuscripts (diaries, letter, memoirs), military publications and manuals, maps and oral histories. Some of this material is available online.
Probably the most interesting part of the MHI Special Collections is the huge number of old photographs. I took a look at some of the photos available on the Institute’s Web site. While limited in number, they are a fascinating glimpse into our country’s history. I spent some time looking at Civil War photographs and also many from the Indian Wars and from Spanish-American War. Numerous generals are documented, as are Indian chiefs, common soldiers, and civilians. I especially liked the picture of a prospector and his mules, taken in Arizona in the 1880s. Another one that caught my eye was "The Watch on the Rhine", showing a guard on the Coblenz railroad bridge in Coblenz, Rhenish Prussia, Germany, taken on January 6, 1919. Other online pictures show pictures of the Little Big Horn battlefield taken in 1886 (the battle was fought on June 25, 1876), floods in Louisiana in 1927, daily routine of soldiers in the Korean War, and more.
While fascinating to view, the online collection of photographs represents only a small portion of the Military History Institute’s photography collection. Many thousands of pictures have not yet been scanned and placed online. Luckily, the card catalog is available online. Here you can search for photographs and find a brief description of each. If it is of interest, you can order copies of any photograph via regular mail.
The US Army Military History Institute’s Photograph Database card catalog is available at: http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/PhotoDB.html. The collection of online photographs is available at: http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/HPOL.html
My thanks to Charles Fitzgerald for letting me know about this excellent online resource.
- University Of North Dakota to Purchase 33 More 'Bygdeboker' Volumes
The University of North Dakota Chester Fritz Library now plans to buy 33 more "bygdeboker" volumes, thanks to help from Nodak Mutual Foundation of Fargo. The bygdeboker books record Norway's historical farming tradition, and family population and are tools for finding information about ancestors in Norway. The University of North Dakota already has one of the largest bygdebok collections outside Norway, and the new addition will make the collection even more valuable to genealogists and historians.
Organized in 1997 to preserve and develop the Nordic Studies Program at UND, the Nordic Initiative established the Norwegian-American Farm Family History Project to support the large collection of bygdeboker used by an increasing number of people across the nation every year. Bruce Gjovig, chair of the Nordic Initiative said, "UND's bygdebok collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections outside of Norway, and is a strong draw for many Norwegian-American families wishing to trace their heritage and ancestry." The collection is housed in the UND Chester Fritz Library's Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.
The current Bygdebok Collection contains over 950 books that allow family history researchers to trace their families back to the early 1600s in more than 500 Norwegian farms. The bygdebok collection is open to the public and a free guide is available upon request by phone (701) 777-4625 or through the Special Collections website at http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/Famhist/bygdebok.html.
- Asian Ancestors in the Americas on PBS
The Public Broadcasting System has kicked off a month of special programming that focuses on Asian topics as part of the U.S. national Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. Programming varies among PBS affiliates, but one of the largest line-ups for the Asian-American heritage month is from major PBS station WNET in New York.
"Ancestors In The Americas" is reported to be the first in-depth television series to present the untold history and contemporary legacy of early Asian immigrants to the Americas, from the 1700s to the 1900s. Creating first-person voices through an innovative "documemoir" approach, "Ancestors In The Americas" brings to life a largely unexplored past, not found in standard textbooks, and invites a new understanding of American history.
The three programs include:
Each PBS affiliate station is free to broadcast this series at a time of their own choosing. Check your local television listings for the dates and times in your area.
To learn more about this series, go to: http://www.pbs.org/ancestorsintheamericas/programinfo.html
- Less than 50 People Founded the Entire Population of Europe
According to an article in New Scientist Magazine, Europe’s pool of ancestors may be much less than what was previously believed. A new analysis of the human genome suggests that 60,000 years ago, just 50 people may have founded Europe's entire population, according to studies by David Reich and colleagues at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scientists had previously believed that today's 500 million European residents descended from about 10,000 people who left Africa around 100,000 years ago.
The new findings could make it easier to identify the genes that cause human diseases, because it means it will be easier to track what sections of the genome are different between individuals -- sections that might carry genes that contribute to a disease or condition. "I'm very, very excited about this," Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute told New Scientist. The estimate came from studies that follow genetic variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, which become separated in the genetic shuffling that occurs with every new generation. The method is believed to be more accurate than older methods to trace human ancestry, which rely on mutation rates.
You can read the entire article online at: http://www.newscientist.com/dailynews/news.jsp?id=ns9999721.
Let’s hope the magazine’s scientific reporting is more accurate than their use of the English language. Note the sentence in the article that says "Scientists previously believed that the 500 million people that live in Europe today are ancestors of about 10,000 people who left Africa around 100,000 years ago."
A newsletter reader wrote this week asking for advice. He uses a Web-based e-mail service where all of his e-mail is on a Web service. He uses Netscape or Internet Explorer to read and write all of his e-mails. He wrote, "I kept my genealogy e-mails in one location to facilitate my research efforts. When I sat down to do some work Sunday, all my folders were empty."
Somewhat panic-stricken, he contacted the webmaster at the service he was using. The response was chilling: "I am not sure what has happened here. My e-mail is gone too."
It seems that all of this person’s carefully filed e-mails about genealogy research have now disappeared and cannot be recovered. This brings us to one very important computer term: backups.
Keep in mind that computers will fail. A perfect computer has not yet been built. All computers are subject to hardware failure, power surges and human errors. While online servers generally have sophisticated backup capabilities, nothing is guaranteed.
You need to keep backups of important information on your own computer as well as online and on backup tapes or disks. If your e-mail is on HotMail or Yahoo or any other Web-based e-mail service, you still need to make your own backups, as the hapless correspondent discovered this week.
You do not have to back up every bit and byte on your computer. Programs can be re-installed after a massive failure. Only the data is important. I would suggest that you back up your e-mail messages as well as your genealogy database, your checkbook, your income taxes, your personal correspondence and anything else that would be difficult to reconstruct.
Backups can be to floppy or ZIP disk or CD-ROM or whatever hardware device you deem appropriate. If you have the luxury of an in-home network (which is becoming quite popular), you can back up your information to another computer on the network. Such a backup process is easy to implement. When you trade up to a newer, more powerful computer, don’t ditch the old one. Add a couple of network cards or adapters. These can cost less than $15.00 each if you shop around a bit. Add in some cabling and perhaps an Ethernet hub, and you have an excellent backup device.
The speed of the backup system is unimportant; the older, slower computer will work just fine. The old system will probably suffice to make a backup of your data files. Should you want to back up the entire hard disk, you may have to spend a hundred dollars or so for a bigger hard disk to go inside the old system. The total cost of network and hard drive should be less than two hundred dollars, cheap insurance in the case of disaster. How much would it cost to completely re-create all your data?
My primary computer does a full backup every Sunday morning at 2:00 AM and then does incremental backups of only the changed files on each of the next six days at the same time of the morning. This is done automatically while I am sleeping. In addition, my genealogy database and word processing documents are also all duplicated on a laptop PC. Occasionally I also copy the same critical files to my CD-ROM writer and then store the disk off-site, in a desk drawer at work.
When was the last time you backed up your e-mail? Or your genealogy database? If you experience a computer disaster five minutes from now, what will you do?
- Quote of the Week
From Maureen Bryson’s homepage: "Some of my ancestors must be in a witness protection program!!"
- Home Pages Highlighted
The following is a list of some of the genealogy-related World Wide Web home pages that have been added recently on http://www.rootscomputing.com:
To submit your home page to this newsletter, enter the necessary information at: http://www.rootscomputing.com/register.htm. Due to the volume of new Web pages submitted, I am not able to list all of them in the newsletter.
Are you interested in the articles in this newsletter? Would you like to learn more or ask questions or make comments about these articles? Join this newsletter’s online discussion group on CompuServe’s Genealogy Techniques Forum. The CompuServe forums are free and are available to anyone using Netscape, Internet Explorer or CompuServe’s own software Go to: http://www.rootsforum.com.
If you would like to submit news, information or press releases for possible inclusion in future newsletters, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The author does reserve the right to accept or reject any articles submitted.
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About the author: Dick Eastman is the forum manager of the three Genealogy Forums on CompuServe. He also is the author of "YOUR ROOTS: Total Genealogy Planning On Your Computer" published by Ziff-Davis Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com