Annie rewrites an American dream
ANNIE Moore is immortalised in bronze statues in New York Harbour and Ireland and cited in story and song as the first of 12 million immigrants to arrive at Ellis Island.
Her story, as it has been recounted for decades, is that she went west with her family to fulfil the American dream — eventually reaching Texas, where she married a descendant of the Irish liberator, Daniel O'Connell, and then died accidentally under the wheels of a streetcar at the age of 46.
The first part of the myth seems authentic enough.
Hustled ahead of a burly German by her two younger brothers and by an Irish longshoreman who shouted "Ladies first", one Annie Moore from County Cork set foot on Ellis Island ahead of the other passengers from the steamship Nevada on January 1, 1892, her 15th birthday.
She was officially registered by the former private secretary to the secretary of the treasury and was presented with a $10 gold piece by the superintendent of immigration.
"She says she will never part with it, but will always keep it as a pleasant memento of the occasion," the New York Times reported in describing the ceremonies inaugurating Ellis Island.
As for what happened next, though, history appears to have embraced the wrong Annie Moore.
"It's a classic go-west-young-woman tale riddled with tragedy," said Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, a professional genealogist. "If only it were true."
In fact, according to Smolenyak Smolenyak's research, the Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame settled on the Lower East Side, married a bakery clerk and had 11 children. She lived a poor immigrant's life, but her descendants multiplied and many prospered.
The story of the immigrant girl who went west, however, became so commonly accepted that even descendants of the Annie Moore who died in Texas came to believe it. Over the years, several have been invited to participate in ceremonies on Ellis Island and in Ireland.
It took some genealogical detective work to find the proper Annie. After offering a $1,000 reward on the internet a few months ago for information, Smolenyak Smolenyak teamed up with New York City's commissioner of records, Brian G Andersson, and discovered the woman who they have concluded is, in fact, the iconic Annie Moore.
Smolenyak Smolenyak (a genealogist's dream: she's a Smolenyak married to a previously unrelated Smolenyak) became interested in Annie Moore four years ago while researching a documentary on immigration.
Pursuing the paper trail, she found that the Annie who died instantly when struck by a streetcar near Fort Worth in 1923 was not an immigrant at all but was apparently born in Illinois. Moreover, she traced that Moore family to Texas as early as 1880. "I realised it was the wrong Annie," she recalled.
This naturally prompted the genealogist to try to find out
what had happened to the Ellis Island Annie.
For a few years she made little progress but earlier this year, after she moved to southern New Jersey, she visited a genealogical exhibition in Philadelphia featuring a 1910 photograph of the Texas Annie. (The photograph might also have been a model for Jeanne Rynhart's two bronze sculptures, one of which is at Ellis Island.)
She posted a challenge on her blog for information. "With the power of the internet and a handful of history geeks we cracked this baby in six weeks," she said. "Brian found this one document, and we knew we had the right family. We had the smoking gun."
What Andersson found was the naturalisation certificate belonging to Annie's brother Philip, who arrived with her on the steamship. He was also listed in the 1930 census with a daughter, Anna. They found Anna in the Social Security death index. That identification led to her son, who is Annie Moore's great-nephew.
On her first try, Smolenyak Smolenyak was lucky enough to find the great-nephew listed in a directory. "As soon as I said 'Annie Moore', he knew instantly — 'That's us,' " she said. "They had been overlooked, but they had sort of resigned themselves. I think they're very happy to be found."
Her $1,000 reward is to be split between Andersson, who is donating it to charity, and Annie's great-niece.
As for Edward Wood, a New Jersey plumbing contractor who is descended from the Texas Annie Moore and who has been feted on Ellis Island, Smolenyak Smolenyak said that when she told him of her findings, he said, "I'm disappointed, but I'm not heartbroken."
The Annie Moore who arrived in steerage and inaugurated Ellis Island initially joined her parents, who had arrived several years earlier, apparently in a five-storey brick tenement at 32 Monroe Street in Manhattan.
Records indicate that Annie Moore later moved to, among other places, a nearby apartment on New Chambers Street.
"She had the typical hardscrabble immigrant life," Smolenyak Smolenyak said. "She sacrificed herself for future generations."
According to her latest research, Annie's father was a longshoreman. She married a bakery clerk. They had at least 11 children. Five survived to adulthood and three had children of their own. She died of heart failure in 1924 at 47. Her brother Anthony, who arrived with Annie and Philip, died in his 20s in the Bronx.
Annie lived and died within a few square blocks on the Lower East Side, where some of her descendants lived until just recently. She is buried with six of her 11 children (five infants and one who survived to 21) alongside the famous and forgotten in a Queens cemetery.
Her living descendants include great-grandchildren, the great-nephew and the great-niece. One of the descendants is an investment adviser and another has a PhD.
Smolenyak Smolenyak described them as "poster children" for immigrant America, with Irish, Jewish, Italian and Scandinavian surnames. "It's an all-American family," she said. "Annie would have been proud."
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