The Ellis Island Myth

On this week’s Genealogy Roadshow, I and many, many other genealogy fans noticed a glaring mistake–host Joshua Taylor seemed to acknowledge that the surname of a participant’s ancestor was changed at Ellis Island.  Now, most people probably didn’t nothing and presumably don’t care very much, but in the genealogy community spreading this myth is one of the cardinal sins.  Names were almost never changed at Ellis Island for a variety of reasons–not the least of which being that the passenger lists were created at the location of departure.  That is why it was both shocking and disappointing to hear the President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies perpetuate a wide-spread story that may be romantic but is blatantly false.  Dick Eastman has a very long post on his blog dispelling the myth.  If you don’t believe him, then try the New York Public Library.    

Anyway, to give credit where credit is due, Taylor has explained himself and sort of apologized, which is good because a show’s credibility is on the line when the viewers can spot clear errors.  Which is not to say that one blog post makes it all better–more people will have seen the show than will read this post, Taylor’s, Eastman’s, the New York Public Library’s, or any of the other zillion posts out there on the Internet dispelling the Ellis Island myth.  But it’s better than nothing. 

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