Ellis Island in Cyber Space

Johanna O'Donell Flaherty who arrived on Ellis Island in 1923 was guest of honor at the Ellis Island dedication ceremony in 1990.

By Irish America Staff
August / September 2001

In April of 2001 Ellis Island opened its doors to more people than ever before with the launching of their web site, www.ellisislandrecords.com. The site contains essentially all the immigration records the famous gateway to America has stored.

Compiling such an enormous amount of information seemed as vast and daunting as the ocean the immigrants crossed, but with sortie help the Ellis Island Foundation made their way across. The result is causing quite a few ripples. Twelve thousand experienced volunteers of the Mormon Church, after completing a similar project with their own genealogy web site two years ago, waded through eight years work and piles of files. And then, after an estimated 22 million paper records had been compiled and transformed into a jazzy computer site, to be opened with the simple click of a mouse, the unimaginable happened – it crashed.

An Ellis Island spokeswoman told the New York Times, “We thought we were prepared. But we found that the word got out pretty fast and that we have a pretty popular web site.”

It seems that with as much hoopla as the Titanic, the site was doomed to the same fate.

Well, not doomed. The site is up and running today, easy to maneuver through and efficient.

With a few clicks the visitor can type in the name of the person they wish to research. Automatically, the site provides you with choices, alternate spellings, and other first names, to help make your search easier. Once deciding on the form of the name of your ancestor, you are asked to register with the site. Not to worry, it doesn’t cost a thing. Just fill in your name and mailing address and you are able to find your relative’s date of arrival, age at arrival, marital status, place of residence, and even the name of the ship they were on. For a slight charge you can find even more information.

The site is not perfect, though this may not be their fault. Due either to original mistakes or errors in the recent compilation, some things are missing. Not all entries list the correct information.

All in all, the site is informative, organized, and thoroughly addicting. Be prepared to start entering not only your family’s names but also those of people you know, once knew, or would like to know. With even the most uncommon names seeming to have numerous entries, visitors to the site might have a better idea of the incredible number of passengers (5,000 per day between 1892 and 1924!) that landed on the United States’ shores. ♦

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