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SHAKING YOUR FAMILY TREE

Ellis Island Files on Computers Soon

March 02, 1989|MYRA VANDERPOOL GORMLEY

About 100 million Americans have relatives who entered the United States through Ellis Island in New York. From 1892 until 1954, about 17 million immigrants passed through this gateway, and their records are preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. However, unless you know the name of the ship they came on and the date of their arrival, it may be almost impossible to locate them in this massive collection of records.

Genealogists have long wanted easier access to the actual arrival records, which at last are being computerized and will be made available to researchers. At the present time, buildings on Ellis Island are being refurbished, with the initial stages of the museum there scheduled to open in October of this year. However, work on transcribing the passenger lists to enable their computerization has just been started by the Ellis Island Restoration Commission. Target date for completion of this enormous project is slated for 1992--the centennial of the opening of Ellis Island.

This computer project will contain information on those 17 million immigrants who landed at Ellis Island, including the date they arrived, the ship they came on, their country of origin, their physical characteristics and even the amount of money they brought to this country. All a researcher will need to know is the relative's name. Additionally, a special program now being developed will help descendants whose relatives' names were changed or spelled phonetically by immigration officials.

While information differs from list to list, in most cases the full name, age, port of embarkation and arrival are stated, and since families were treated as a unit, those traveling with parents can be found easily. Other information, such as place of birth and last residence, may be included also.

"There are people who said it couldn't be done, but we now have a complete record of every immigrant," said Philip Lax, president of the Ellis Island Restoration Commission.

When completed, this project will enable those visiting Ellis Island to find information about their immigrant family by using the computer. Also under consideration is making the computerized records available to other repositories throughout the country.

Funds for this $25-million family history center are being raised by a private nonprofit group, the Ellis Island Restoration Commission, which has worked with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Preservation Foundation. Rate of progress will depend entirely on money available. Donations, which are tax deductible, should be sent to Ellis Island Restoration Commission, Federal Hall, 26 Wall St., New York, N.Y. 10005.

Myra Vanderpool Gormley welcomes genealogical questions for her column, but is unable to answer individual letters. For her beginner's how-to genealogy kit (with charts) send $4 to Kit, Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.

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