Ellis Island, Linking America and Ireland

Annie Moore Statue at Ellis Island, Photo by Cindy Thomson

Annie Moore Statue at Ellis Island, Photo by Cindy Thomson

If you’re Irish-American, you should know about Annie Moore. She’s the Irish teenager who came through Ellis Island when it opened in 1892, the very first person to be registered at the new immigration station.

According to www.ellisisland.org, Annie was just fifteen when she came to New York from Queenstown (now Cobh) in County Cork with her two younger brothers, Anthony and Phillip. In fact, the day she arrived happened to be her birthday. By way of celebration, Annie was given a ten dollar gold coin. Annie and her brothers were reunited with their parents who were already living in New York.

There have been discussions over how the American press presented the story. Some say she was older than fifteen, and January 1, 1982, the day she helped open Ellis Island, wasn’t even her birthday. In fact, the very identity of Annie Moore may have been misunderstood for over a hundred years. Genealogist Megan Smolenyak discovered that historians had identified the wrong Annie and she set the record straight. You can listen to Corey’s podcast with Megan on the topic of Annie Moore here. http://irishfireside.com/2010/12/17/irish-genealogy/


Annie Moore The Icon


But who Annie Moore was isn’t nearly as important as what she represents–the Irish diaspora who came to America and whose descendants today identify strongly with the country they long to visit, Ireland. Annie Moore stands for all our grandmothers in a sense. The sacrifices many, or maybe even all, of them made is humbling when you think about it. Some lost family members on the journey. Some never saw their families again because of the distance. Some struggled to survive in a foreign country and in a different culture. Life was hard for many immigrants who arrived without skills or money. Even when we understand this, however, we still cannot grasp it completely unless we hear the immigrants themselves speak of it, and now through the miracle of the Internet we can easily.


The Voice of the Immigrant


There are a few clips of recorded interviews you can listen to online, not only of Irish immigrants but other ethnicities as well. This sample is pretty emotional and gives you a sense of how difficult the journey and the previous life must have been for these immigrants.

Ellis Island Oral History Project

I’ve watched several YouTube videos that were school projects, and while some were adequate to get the grade, others were downright ridiculous. This one, produced by Roots Television, should serve as an example. The child actors did a wonderful job.
From Cork to New York, preview

Ellis Island, Photo by Cindy Thomson

Ellis Island, Photo by Cindy Thomson


You can listen to several interviews with Irish immigrants who came through Ellis Island if you’re registered with Ancestry.com. These are part of the Ellis Island Oral History Project. I searched just with the location Ireland and found a list of 161. It’s a little amusing to hear the interviewer ask where places are in Ireland or how to spell simple places like Ballyglass. If the Irish Fireside had been around at the time, he surely would have been more knowledgable!


Find Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors


There are tons of resources out there if you’re interested, so I won’t repeat them all here. If you’ve started with yourself and worked your way back, and you know what county and religious denomination your ancestors were, you might be ready to search here or here.

But you should search, find your county and townland of origin, and visit online and in person if possible. Finding your own Annie Moore connection will help you appreciate the sacrifices made for you and that will mean more to you than you probably now realize.


Been There, Done That?


Duleek, County Meath, photo by Cindy Thomson

Duleek, County Meath, photo by Cindy Thomson

It seems a lot of people are tracing their Irish roots these days. For some it’s the purpose of The Gathering this year. If that describes you, “Been There, Done That,” please tell me about it. I’d love to hear your stories!






Cindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. In addition to books, Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio. Visit her online at www.cindyswriting.com.


Author: Cindy

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  1. I have only been to Ireland once and that was on a CIE tour. Great tour we loved all the parts of Ireland we visited. It’s a beautiful country and the people we talked to were all amazing.

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    • It’s interesting that I haven’t found anyone who had a different experience, Lynne. Thanks for reading!

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