All Ellis Island Passenger Records Now Online Free

FamilySearch announced that Ellis Island Immigrant Records 1820-1957 are now online and free to access on FamilySearch.

Check out the “Great Wave” of immigration (1880s–early 1920s) among the complete collection of Ellis Island passenger lists.

According to the announcement:

Ship passenger lists can teach you more than you might think about your traveling ancestors. Earlier records may include a full name, age, gender, occupation, nationality, intended destination (country), name of ship and date of arrival. Later records may also name traveling companions and relatives “back home” or in the United States. You may also learn a relative’s marital status, physical description, last permanent residence, or birthplace. Any of these details can help you build your family tree and connect with your immigrant ancestors.

Personally, I’ve found surprising information tucked into passenger logs and immigration records on my own ancestors.

The collection includes:

The records of Ellis Island (and Castle Rock) were originally preserved on microfilm, a technology FamilySearch and others are quickly digitizing with the help of many FamilySearch volunteers. The announcement of the joint project between Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation and FamilySearch noted that it took 165,590 online FamilySearch volunteers to convert and transcribe the 9.3 million images of records totaling 63.7 million names, “including immigrants, crew, and other passengers traveling to and from the United States through the nation’s largest port of entry.”

Luckily for us, all of these records are free to access through FamilySearchch, though registration to log into FamilySearch is required.

Modern Historical Perspective on the News Industry

In a beautifully written long-read post on The Guardian, veteran newspaper editor (and reporter) Alan Rusbridger wrote about trust in the media, looking back over his long career that started in the 1970s.

For 20 years I edited a newspaper in the throes of this tumultuous revolution. The paper I took over in 1995 was composed of words printed on newsprint involving technologies that had changed little since Victorian times. It was, in many ways, a vertically arranged world. We – the organs of information – owned printing presses and, with them, the exclusive power to hand down the news we had gathered. The readers handed up the money – and so did advertisers, who had few other ways of reaching our audience. But today advertisers can often reach consumers much more effectively through other channels. People are much more reluctant to part with money for news. And, however you measure it, there is widespread scepticism, confusion and mistrust about mainstream journalism.

The stories he tells of how the newspaper industry worked, and changed with modern technology, says much about who we are as well as where we’ve been. I thoroughly enjoyed his description of learning to work the police beat early in his career with a seasoned journalist.

More important to me was Fulton Gillespie, the chief reporter, known as Jock – a growling, silver-haired Glaswegian with dark glasses and the stub of a cigar permanently lodged between bearded lips.

Jock saw it as his duty to school us in hard knocks. We would begin the day with the calls – a round trip to the police, ambulance and fire services. As we set off in the office Mini, he would deliver one of a small repertoire of homilies about our craft. “If you write for dukes, only dukes will understand, but if you write for the dustman, both will understand. Keep it short, keep it simple, write it in language you would use if you were telling your mum or dad.”

He explained that police work involved keeping one foot on the pavement and one in the gutter. You got their respect by kicking them in the balls at regular intervals, because, in the long run, they needed us more than we needed them. That, he emphasised, was a good rule applicable to all those in authority. It had been hammered into him by the old hacks on the Falkirk Herald, and it would always be true. He repeated this often in case I had failed to grasp it: they needed us more than we needed them. We owned the printing presses; they didn’t. End of.

This is the media I grew up with, the school of hard knocks knocking back, gritty street reporting mixed with saucy community gossip and school and sports news, a time when our local newspapers were the records of our lives and our neighborhoods.

Genealogists spend much of their time learning about history as well as learning from history, and newspapers are a part of our deep research in family history.

Many of us grew up with the newspaper mythology story (mixed with truth) from the movie, Citizen Kane. You’ve heard stories of William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper empire built on yellow journalism, described in Wikipedia as:

…newspapers that present little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.

In other words, yesteryear’s fake news. Or better described as today’s tabloid journalism.

Hearst sensationalized the 1898 Spanish American War, causing it to escalate with his false or at least exaggerated reports. Yet, according to some Cuban historians, Hearst is considered a hero for liberating Cuba from Spain.

Hearst wasn’t alone when it came to yellow journalism and sensationalism. Joseph Pulitzer of the Pulizter Prize fame was notorious for his sensationalized news stories, often referred to as the “father of tabloid news.” Governments, businesses, and newspapers in general have long had bias, influencing voters, opinions, wars, and governments, for good and for evil, all to sell a paper. Not all, but enough to make us question their integrity when accused of falsehoods.

It’s not just newspapers but photographs and the stories they tell, or don’t tell, as they mislead the viewer. Photopreneur featured a list of the most infamous staged photos including the famous photograph by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Eddie Adams, of Colonel Ngyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Viet Cong prisoner in the head. It became a rallying cry for the end of the Vietnam war and defeating such a brutal government. The event captured was real, but the fact not publicized was how the executed man had been found guilty of murdering another officer’s entire family. The execution was to take place indoors, but the Colonel wanted to make this a lesson to others, so he ordered it moved outside so the light would be better for the news photographers, thus staging the execution. Propaganda twisted it into another story.

Another iconic image from the Vietnam war was the Napalm Girl in Vietnam, photographed by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese news reporter, used around the globe as a symbol for the American incursion and destruction of a society and culture. What wasn’t well known is that the girl was fleeing not from American forces but Vietnamese air forces dropping napalm on the village, killing many of the girl’s family and setting her clothes on fire. She stripped them off as she and others ran for safety. She suffered burns over almost 50% of her body. She spent much of her life being used as propaganda by the Vietnamese government until she emigrated to Canada where she still lives to tell the real story.

Even today the term “clickbait” is considered a form of sensationalism, modern yellow journalism if you will, as it lures the web user to click through to something that may look like a news story but is really an ad, fake story, or boring story jazzed up to attract attention and earn income based upon clickthroughs. Clickbait titles use tabloid terms such as shocking, amazing, you’ll never believe, and other attention-getting terms punctuated with exclamation points.

These are just a few of the many examples of sloppy, unprofessional, and sleazy journalism deeds. Does this history combined with frequent claims today of “fake news” justify labeling all journalists charlatans?

No.

Two things we’ve learned from studying history is that we learn from our mistakes and these things happen in cycles because, to use Alan Rusbridger’s comment about the police, “You got their respect by kicking them in the balls at regular intervals, because, in the long run, they needed us more than we needed them.”

When newspapers and journalists get out of control, the backlash is a good kick to straighten up and remember who and what they represent and whom they serve. Pulitzer’s sensationalist work during his lifetime is now dedicated to higher standards to ensure recognition for those who rise above the fray, an attempt to reverse the cycle.

We’ve needed their kicks as well. The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) annually honors outstanding journalism and reporting with their Edward R. Murrow Awards, named after the respected journalist who stood tall and resisted his own censure to stop the witch hunt of McCarthyism, another dark time in our history where the news media kept us from the abyss. He stands as an example of how the news media rose above a bean-counter call for sensationalism at a time when conspiracies ruled, and people thought there was a Russian conspirator under every rock, celebrity, and politician, stopped by a reporter calling for respect for human dignity and freedom of choice and speech.

The lifetime of work by Woodward and Bernstein from Watergate to the present shows us how true investigative journalism combined with a supportive editorial and corporate staff can work for the betterment of society. In spite of a culture of praise and trust for US politicians, their work exposed the corruption in the presidency and election process, and a nation was changed. Yet, it feels like we’re cycling back again in that direction.

The US Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), an independent journalism organization working alongside other noteworthy and trusted news agencies, has a long history of award-winning news investigations, reports, and documentaries uncovering fraud in consumer products, consumer product testing, Medicare billing, wiretapping, data mining, false imprisonments, myths of clean coal and responsible nuclear policies, and other police, FBI, and government abuse and corruptions. Their work has changed laws and made laws.

With tremendous foresight, the Scott Trust was created to secure and fund The Guardian to ensure remains dedicated to “safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference” since 1936, with reinvestment “in journalism rather than to benefit an owner or shareholders.”

In 1997, The Guardian revealed investigations into affairs and abuse of power by Tory Ministers (MPs), winning Newspaper of the Year Award for two years in a row for their continued news coverage. It won again in 2011 for its partnership with WikiLeaks and the leaked US embassy cables, and was honored again with its coverage of the Panama Papers. Their reporters broke the news about leading media companies tapping the phones of celebrities and politicians in England illegally, believed to be fake news for a few years before the truth came out. Today, their thoughtful and intuitive respect for healthy debate, criticism, bravery, and honesty is a bright light in these darker days.

If anything, recent attacks on the journalism and news industry helped it reflect upon its policies for truth in advertising and reporting. NPR, POLITICO, and others are working overtime to maintain and defend their fairly unbiased reports on current events, including being honest with their roles in the the history of fake news with Politico’s “How ‘Fake News’ Was Born at the 1968 DNC and BBC News’ “The (almost) complete history of ‘fake news.’ Even the stalwart Smithsonian jumped in with The Age-Old Problem of “Fake News.”

Throughout history, as long as governments and money control the actions of the media, we get what is paid for. The US First Amendment is a conditional guarantee of free speech, not a promise of truth in speech or publishing. There is a fine legal line between freedom of speech, hate speech, and censorship.

To honor the 100th anniversary of The Guardian, an essay by Guardian editor J.C. Scott titled “A Hundred Years” is now considered a “blueprint for independent journalism” as the Guardian nears its 200th anniversary.

In all living things there must be a certain unity, a principle of vitality and growth. It is so with a newspaper, and the more complete and clear this unity the more vigorous and fruitful the growth. I ask myself what the paper stood for when first I knew it, what it has stood for since and stands for now. A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.

Tackling the issues of financial stability and the transparency of truth in the news, he continued:

A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. Perhaps none of us can attain to it in the desirable measure. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.

He ends with a powerful statement that sets the model for journalistic integrity:

One of the virtues, perhaps almost the chief virtue, of a newspaper is its independence. Whatever its position or character, at least it should have a soul of its own.

For us historically-minded spirits who’ve spent years digging through old newspapers reading sensationalized article titles, snake-oil salesmen pitches, over-blown obituaries, and gossip columns, this history and debate is fascinating today. If you can’t tell the truth, accuse the media of lying. Still, it’s nothing new. We’ve seen it come and go.But some of us would like to see it become old sooner rather than laterer.

How to Give Back to Genealogy

Part of the reason I became involved in the WordPress Community in 2003 was to give back. WordPress is free, open source programming that creates a web platform upon which I stand to publish. It’s free. Free as in costs-me-nothing but some time and energy. With all this free and freedom around, I, like millions of others, wanted to give something back, pay our dues for this amazing program.

So I volunteered.

I poked and prodded around the newly forming WordPress Community, hooking up on the live chat boards, helping answer questions around the web, and eventually in the WordPress Support Forums. Technical documentation was just beginning to find a home in 2004 with the WordPress Codex, our wiki, and it was a mess. I poured through the pages one by one as they were added slowly from other sources, then one day couldn’t resist hitting the edit button because I was so tired of seeing the word separate misspelled. My life would never be the same.

For over 10 years I was a senior editor of the WordPress Codex, writing, editing, and corralling others to volunteer their contributions to make the Codex the single most complete guide and manual for WordPress users. That wasn’t in my plan but it became part of my gift back to WordPress.

As I look at my years in genealogy, first as a passionate hobbyist, now moving into becoming a professional, I look at how I’ve given back to that community as well, and how much that giving paid off in the long run. Let’s explore opportunities for you to do the same.

Join a Genealogy or Historical Society

Michigan Genealogical Council Booth Sign Boards - FGS 2017Nothing says love and support than a check in the form of a donation and/or membership in a genealogy or historical society. You are giving back to keep alive the education and preservation of the heritage and culture of our ancestors.

Join a local group, or one associated with your genealogy location research or group such as a religious or cultural historical society. Even becoming a member of a local or far-off group helps increase their membership numbers and income. Be sure and ask for a digital copy of their newsletter rather than printed and mailed version to help them save even more money.

Participate. Don’t just join. Give back by your presence at regular meetings, board meetings, and educational programs and special events. A warm body does much to warm the soul of a society, knowing people care enough to show up.

Then do more. Volunteer to help with an event or class. Join a committee. Throw in your name when the election committee comes calling.

When you discover you have a little extra at the end of the month, or you are reviewing your donations every year, consider donating to a genealogy society to ensure they keep doing their good work for so many on into the future. Or consider donating to a historical or genealogy society your research, records, photo albums, whatever historical artifacts and treasures that your family won’t want, won’t appreciate, or would support.

Do a Google search for the name of your community, town, county, or state, or maybe genealogical interest such as DNA, Daughters of the American Revolution, or Quakers, with the words society, group, or association.

Also try the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) for the US, and check the calendar at ConferenceKeeper, the schedule of genealogy and family history events and activities.

Attend Genealogy Workshops and Conferences

Conferences - Stillaguamish Northwest Genealogy Conference 2017 - photo by Lorelle VanFossenIt may not seem like you are giving back when you attend local and distant genealogy workshops and conferences, but you are helping. Your ticket and presence keeps the event alive and prospering. And more.

The events you attend also help direct future events by your enthusiasm and feedback. It supports educators, teachers, and experts in the field who attend and speak at these events, helping others to learn more about their specialty.

If you cannot attend, consider giving the gift of a ticket to a family history event or workshop to someone else to help them learn more about genealogy, especially family members new to family history research. Or donate the ticket price back to the sponsoring organization so they may offer scholarships and tickets to those in need, a generous way to share the wealth.

Check with local, state, and national (and international) genealogy societies and organizations for event dates, as well as ConferenceKeeper to find a workshop and conference near you.

Help Digitize

More traditional glass plate book and document scanner in use at RootsTech in FamilySearch booth.As digitization methods become more affordable, many historical and genealogy societies and groups are working hard to digitize their record. With recent fires of historical archives and government agencies, and the risk of more, the urgency to duplicate their precious inventory of books, papers, photographs, manuscripts, photo albums, etc., increases.

Volunteer to help with digitization. This could involve donating money, helping to write grant proposals, or hands on labor to assist with the process. You don’t have to have technical expertise to volunteer, but it helps if you do.

FamilySearch features a web page for Active Projects displaying where the non-profit family history company has scanners, cameras, and other archiving resources around the world working to preserve local historical records. Check with local Family History Libraries to see what projects they may have available. Many work with local agencies and archives to assist with digitization and indexing. Contact your local historical or genealogy group or society to find out what help they need to digitize their records. Also check libraries, state and national archives (some accept volunteer help), and local museums.

And consider volunteering with the Internet Archive. Their projects range from local to international and they need help at every level and expertise. Their work to conserve and preserve history through digitization by working with governments, archives, and local level groups helps protect human history into the future.

Index Records

Years ago, I’d visit a local Family History Center or library and volunteer to help index records. Today, you can volunteer to index records right from within your home or on your laptop or tablet from anywhere.

It isn’t just words you are asked to transcribe and index today. It is maps, photographs, and a wide variety of scanned records and materials. The British Library has a volunteer program for georeferencing and geotagging points on a map, allowing old maps to be just as valuable as new ones.

In Oregon where I live, Betty Winn (90) was honored recently for her volunteer work of 17 years indexing historical records of the Oregon State Archives. Trust me, Betty needs some volunteer company.

Indexing and other transcription volunteer projects can be found at your local library, museum, historical society, government offices, or archives. Check with your local genealogical or historical society for other local projects, too. Note that some institutions hold special events to encourage indexing and transcription during a specific set of dates and times such as the Worldwide FamilySearch Indexing Event. Here are some other suggestions and examples.

Hunt for Graves

Find A Grave and BillionGraves are eagerly looking for volunteers to help find graves, document them, and create memorial pages for the residents when possible.

Both services include grave sites and cemeteries from around the world, so this is a give-back you can do locally or as you travel researching your ancestors and walking in their footsteps. Mobile apps make the task even easier.

Both services also link up needs with those living in the local area where someone needs cemetery and tombstone information if it is lacking. When you register to volunteer, let them know if you are available to research for those living far away.

Heirloom Reunions

Museum - Wood Plane from Brashear collection and photos - Heinz Museum History Display - by Lorelle VanFossenAn article on Genealogy Gems mentioned heirloom reunions, finding artifacts and reuniting them with their owner’s descendants.

Once lost objects such as bibles, photographs, photo albums, scrapbooks, military dog tags, school yearbooks, and other heirlooms can be returned to descendants with some serious genealogical research. There are an increasing number of stories about such discoveries and reunions reported, and many are turning it into a hobby as part of their passion for family history research and detective work.

If you have found some heirloom artifacts, consider researching them or donating the items to those who reunite such items with their original owners, or their descendants. It’s a worthwhile gift of history, and may reunite families with precious memories as well as historical souvenirs.

Give DNA Tests

The price of DNA tests are dropping rapidly, especially with the many sale events recently. Buy several from one or more companies and give them to your elder family members. Then make their DNA test results matter.

While waiting for the DNA results, which can take weeks or months, start building the family tree in the service where you purchased the DNA kit. This will help match DNA results with your tree, improving the chances of finding matches when the test comes back.

Once the DNA test results are available, download them from the paid service and upload them to GEDmatch, GEDmatch Genesis (the “new” version of GEDmatch), Family Tree DNA, and DNA.Land, as well as the other services you’ve joined as a member such as MyHeritage and Ancestry.com.

By sharing DNA test results across a wider spectrum of databases, you not only increase your changes of finding relatives and connections, but you increase other people’s chances of the same success: finding you and your relatives.

The more we share our DNA data, the more the entire system improves. Through triangulation and just the increase in data points, the better the results and findings.

Give Time

Give of your time and skills as a family history researcher and help others. They may or may not be members of your local genealogical society. Reach out into the community.

Genealogists helping each other on laptop during FGS conference 2017 - photo by Lorelle VanFossenHelp your grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and other family members to understand and preserve their family history.

Talk to your friends. Help them get started.

Be patient. Be kind. Move at their speed. Help them with the technology, and with the step-by-step process of researching their family. The more people around you enthused about genealogy, the more you improve your support group and the more you help others protect their family histories.

Give Away

Books - Old Books - The Ancestory and Family History books - photo by Lorelle VanFossenI have always believed in giving without expectation of return, enjoying the process of giving rather than seeking other rewards. Consider all the ways you may give to genealogy.

  • Besides donating money, consider donating records, research, photo albums, photos, heirlooms, antiques, artifacts, and other historical artifacts to your local genealogy or historical society, or even the state or national organizations if they welcome such gifts.
  • Gift historical and genealogy books to local libraries.
  • Donate a basket or bag of family history research supplies or kits to your local family history group for special events.Donations - Gift bag Stillaguamish Genealogical Society bag with family history research tools - photo and gift by Lorelle VanFossen
  • Donate an Amazon.com or other bookstore or office supply chain gift card to your local family history group for event giveaways.
  • Donate a couple hours of your time as an assistant researcher at your family history library, local library, or historical society.
  • Have a blog or are part of an active social media group? Consider donating some of the above ideas to them as well.

Do Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) is a global volunteer organization committed to connect volunteers with genealogical acts of kindness around the world.

Volunteers make themselves available to do local research at least once a month in an act of kindness. They visit cemeteries and take photographs of tombstones, look up records in local government offices, churches, archives, and wherever the records might be found, and help as best they can to answer questions and inquiries.

Volunteers donate their time, but the research request person must pay for all expenses incurred in the research process such as copies, printing fees, postage, parking fees, etc. I’ve been asked to compensate the amazing genealogists who’ve helped me around the world with little more than a LinkedIn endorsement, following them on Facebook, or other non-monetary request as well as covering extraneous expenses through a PayPal payment, far less than I would have paid a professional genealogist. Not to say you shouldn’t, but this is among your options when researching beyond your geographic range and expertise.

Have an expertise in a geographical area or specialty? Live near a popular library, archive, or research region? Have some free time and want to help others? Consider volunteering to become a member of RAOGK and help others solve their genealogical questions.

Give Back as Much as You Can and More

I’ve long believed that the more you give the more you get back. I’ve experienced it repeatedly throughout my life, and often in the most surprising ways.

I give without expectation of return, the secret to true gift giving. I recommend you do the same. Gifts without strings are a beautiful thing.

Also give because of the learning experience. Those times helping with indexing, researching other people’s family tree, and sitting through presentations that I thought would be snores that ended up teaching me new things about this whole research process I’ve been banging my head against since I was a child. You never know where a lesson will come from.

I hope this inspires you to give. How do you give back to the genealogy industry and community? What do you wish you’d do more of when it comes to encouraging others?