Saturday, July 2, 2016

June 29th Program Review - Annie Moore of Ellis Island

The June 29th program meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) was supposed to have CVGS member Shirley Becker as the speaker on "New York Revisited", but she had a family emergency.  President Virginia Taylor asked Randy Seaver if he had any ideas, and he suggested watching a CDROM he obtained at the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree from a Legacy Family Tree webinar titled "Annie Moore of Ellis Island, A Case of Historical Identify Theft?" by renowned author and genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak.

The historical background is that Annie Moore (age 13?) was the first immigrant to step onto Ellis Island in New York harbor on 1 January 1892, accompanied by her two brothers, Anthony and Philip, from the ship Nevada.  Apparently, her parents Mathew and Mary were already in New York City.  She received a $10 gold piece and there were several articles about this plucky Irish girl coming to America.  She disappeared into the melting pot of America.

When Ellis Island was being restored in the 1980s and 1990s, a commemorative plate was being sold to raise funds, and a granddaughter of a woman named Annie Moore inquired and it was thought by the family that Annie Moore O'Connell of Texas was the Irish lass, but she had died and there were only memories and a photograph.  A newspaper article and a magazine article were written about her.

In 2006, Megan Smolenyak was writing a book titled "They Came to America," and she decided to track down the paper trail for Annie Moore in historical records.  She easily found the 1900 and 1910 U.S. census records for Annie (Moore) O'Connell, in Texas and New Mexico, respectively, but they indicated that she was born in Illinois.  After more searching, Megan concluded that the 1986 claim was wishful thinking on the part of the O'Connell family.

Megan started a new search for the real Annie Moore, and it was apparent that it would be a challenge because of the fairly common name and the lack of records in many localities.  She ran a crowd sourcing contest on her blog, offering a $1,000 for conclusive proof of the identity of the real 1892 Irish immigrant.  Bits and pieces of evidence was found by researchers, including a 1902 death record of Anthony Moore in New York City, son of Mathew and Julia (not Mary!) Moore; next, a 1900 U.S. census of Mathew, Julia and Annie in New York City, but was it the right family?  A 1915 New York State Census entry and the 1920 U.S. Census entries tied Philip Moore to Mathew and Julia;  Philip Moore's 1921 Declaration of Intention said he arrived on the ship Nevada in January 1892, which corroborated that this was the correct Philip, whose parents were Mathew and Julia Moore;  Philip had a daughter Anna in 1925, and from her Social Security Application information Megan found Anna's son, Michael Shulman.  She phoned Michael and he said immediately "you have the right family."

Gradually, the life of Annie Moore was pieced together.  She married Joseph Schayer in 1901 and lived on the lower east side of Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge.  They had a number of children, and Annie died at age 47 in December 1924.  A New York City resident obtained the death certificate which named her spouse and her parents.  Annie was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodside Cemetery in Queens.

After identifying Annie's life story, Megan started another project, to track down Annie's descendants and other Moore relatives, and they held a family reunion at the New York Biographical and Genealogical society building in 2007. In the process, they collected several family photographs of Annie.  Eight different ethnic groups were represented at the reunion.  A New York Times article in 2007 described the research.  A photograph was found of the three children in the photograph album of Mr. Weber, the Superintendent of Ellis Island.

A new memorial at the cemetery was erected with much fanfare (see A statue of Annie and her two brothers was installed at Ellis Island, and a plaque was put on the family home in Cork, Ireland.  A movie was made by students in Cork describing Annie's life (see and they found Annie's birth and baptism records in Cork records.  A play was written and performed about the Annie Moore story in Washington DC.

All in all, this was a historical genealogy mystery story in two parts, with the end result  that her descendants reclaimed their rightful place in history.  You can see several videos about this story at Megan's website -

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