Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wrong Annie Moore

You may or may not have heard that I launched a contest to find the family of the true Annie Moore – that is, the first immigrant to enter Ellis Island. Initially, folks were very kind and took me at my word when I said that the Annie Moore featured in all the stories – the one who ventured West and wound up dying tragically in an accident – was the wrong one.

As the hunt continued and genealogical instincts kicked in, though, folks started questioning me. How did I know this was the wrong Annie Moore? That’s a fair question. So I thought it was time for an answer.

Documentary Blues
A few years ago, I was working on a documentary about immigration. It seemed natural to track down the family members of Annie Moore and somehow feature them in the show. So I did what any genealogist would do – I did a little research on Annie to try to pick up the trail. Fortunately for me, there had been plenty written about her, so it was easy to learn about her Westward-ho life tale.

At that point, I stated to tackle the paper trail – partly to locate her descendants today, partly to find visuals for the documentary, and partly to substantiate the oft-told story. So I went and pulled a census record. Hmmm . . . her birth place was listed as Illinois. No matter. How often have we all tripped across errors like that in census records? So I pulled another census record. Illinois again. OK, maybe she was one of those who wanted to be perceived as American in spite of her foreign birth. So on to the next document. Uh-oh. Illinois a third time. Now I knew I was in trouble.

I continued to research in the desperate hope of finding evidence of her Irish birth, or at least, a reasonable explanation as to why an immigrant would so consistently give her birth place as Illinois. But ultimately, I had to give up and admit that this was simply the wrong Annie Moore. Yes, she was about the same age and had the same name, but that was all they had in common.

I continued to dig enough until I realized how this all happened. One of Annie’s daughters had apparently become enchanted with the notion that her mother – who had died back when she was a teenager – was the Ellis Island immigrant. This happened around the time of the Bicentennial when commemorative plates of Annie Moore were made, so who wouldn’t want to claim little Annie? Naturally, she told the family – and how many of us truly question the stories our elders tell us? Grandma or great-aunt Tillie never lied, of course, so why would we even think to question what they tell us? And before anyone thought to double check, she passed away.

Show and Tell
So how can I demonstrate in an online environment how I reached this conclusion about Annie? What I’ve decided to do is to play a little show and tell. I’m going to show some of the documents I came across during the course of my research and provide a running commentary. And not knowing how best to show them, I’ve opted for chronological order.

Unfortunately, blogging is not the best method for sharing something like this, but it sure is the fastest! So I’m going to suggest that you print out this particular posting and use it as a map as you inspect the images I’ll upload to accompany each comment. I’ll upload the images in reverse order, so that they’ll appear sequentially in the blog. I’m also working on having a photo gallery added to my honoringourancestors.com website, so it will be easier to refer to and follow. And finally, I’m going to bookend this series of images with identical postings of this explanatory message so that folks can easily find this “map” regardless of whether they start with the first image or the last. So here we go . . .

Slide 1
There are lots of red herrings with the Annie Moore documents, including the fact that the 1880 census index for her family lists her Irish-born parents as having been born in Indiana. If you take a close look at the record, though, you’ll see that they were born in Ireland. The reason I didn’t include the whole family is because the ink practically fades away to nothing after the parents. Check it out on Ancestry.com or Heritage Quest. You’ll see what I mean. And yes, Annie is listed as having been born in Illinois – which wouldn’t have been scribbled as a default out of laziness by an inattentive census-taker because the family had already moved to Texas.

Slide 2
Here we have the family – still in Hill County, Texas – in the 1900 census. Annie’s mom has been widowed – and once again, Annie’s listed as having been born in Illinois.

Slide 3
1905 and Annie gets married! It’s Hill County, Texas, but not too many juicy clues. Still, we have proof that Anna O’Connell was once Anna Moore.

Slide 4
I could have included the 1905 birth of Patrick and Anna O’Connell’s first child, but believe it or not, it’s even harder to make out than this 1907 birth of this daughter. See those columns I’ve highlighted in the center? I know they’re hard to read, but they’re for “nationality of father, where born” and “nationality of mother, where born.” And for the O’Connell birth, both columns include the remark “native.”

Slide 5
Now we have a married Anna in the 1910 census in Clovis, Curry County, New Mexico. And look – she’s born in Illinois. Of course, you have to ponder how much weight to give this instance, given that the census taker has incorrectly listed Anna’s husband as having been born in Ireland. Not so. He was born in Indiana. All those I’s!

Slide 6
This one is another red herring. It looks as if we’re seeing Pat O’Connell with his kids in the 1920 census in Clovis, New Mexico, but take a closer look at the gender column. Yup, “Pat” is female. Anna O’Connell had a habit of going by Mrs. Pat O’Connell – and her husband passed away in the 19-teens, so it’s clearly her and not him. And once again, she’s born in Illinois.

Slide 7
Here’s an article that appeared at the time of Anna O’Connell’s accidental death. No particular details to support Illinois or Ireland, but the family details simply underscore that the family followed in the assorted census records is the correct one.

Slide 8
Now we have Anna O’Connell’s Texas death certificate. And yes, I know the birth place is about impossible to read. In fact, I had it researched twice in the hope of getting a better copy – but both researchers who were able to see the microfilm directly said the birth place looked like Illinois.

Slide 9
Now we have the cemetery details of Anna and her husband. Again, nothing new that helps with the Illinois/Ireland debate, other than the fact that we’re dealing with an Anna who truly was born about the same time as the Ellis Island Annie Moore. And once again, we have confirmation that we’re dealing with the correct family – based on the death dates of both Patrick and Anna.

Slide 10
And finally, we have a recollection from one of Anna and Pat’s daughters. There are plenty of family details cited, including a series of firsts for Pat – but not a whisper of Ellis Island. If the daughter had believed that at the time, I suspect she would have included it. This was published in 1978 – so slightly after the Bicentennial – but my guess is that it was written slightly earlier. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if providing her memories for this book is what sparked her interest in her family’s heritage and made her link her own Annie Moore with the Ellis Island one.

Bottom line: Multiple documents with an Illinois birth and not a single one with Ireland. And of course, this Annie Moore was already in Texas by 1880 – long before Ellis Island’s Annie came to America. So my conclusion is that this is not the Annie Moore who was the first person to immigrate via Ellis Island.


At 1:41 AM, Blogger Randy Seaver said...


Bravo! A wonderful job of clear and convincing argument to prove the point. Case closed...

Except that we have no real clues for Annie, her brothers (except for two possible death records in NYC), her parents, anyone after her 1892 immigration records and her the ensuing newspaper stories.

Are there census records for Ireland in 1901? I don't have Ancestry so I can't check that out. I think we should make sure that they didn't go back to Ireland at some time.

Cheers -- Randy

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak said...

Hi Randy,

Thanks very much. It was overdue that I explain my reasoning. I knew it would be a tough case, which is why made a contest of it. But the truth is out there!

As to 1901 census records for Ireland, they do exist, but not at Ancestry.com. There are snippets scattered around the internet, and the FHL has a lot, if not all, of them.

Take care,


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