Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on September 2, 2010 in Website

I feel an odd connection to Ellis Island, a place I’ve never been to personally. But two of my grandparents and all but one set of my great-grandparents found themselves there at one time or another.

I discovered this fact last week when two passenger lists I’d been looking for finally found me, too. I’d like to credit the discoveries to my dedication and persistence, but mostly I finally lucked out and found the right wildcards for my search.

Now, between passenger lists, naturalization records and other document trails my family created after coming to America, I’m starting to piece together my own family’s stories of immigration. Like the one about the great-grandfather who declined to accept his American citizenship because he’d given up and returned to Italy (his naturalization records are a fantastic read). Or the story that I’m still trying to understand: why my great-grandparents left their three young children in Austria-Hungary/Yugoslavia/Slovenia for nine years during World War I, while they set up house in America. 

I’m also getting a better understanding of my family’s first moments in America through the newly released Ellis Island Oral History collection at Listening to the accounts of immigrant Lawrence Meinwald, who was about the same age as my great-uncle when he first saw the Statue of Liberty in 1920, and Lillian Galetta, who, at age four, experienced an emotional reunion with her father at Ellis Island, is helping me grasp what was going through the minds of my own family when they reached American soil. Approximately 1,700 stories from immigrants are featured in this free collection, and each one offers greater insight into what it was like and what drove families to become new residents in a new world. 

Immigration-related records provide some of the most revealing details available about an immigrant ancestor’s American experience as well as the life left back home. And we’ve collected the whole batch as well as tips for searching and understanding more at Search for your own family’s journey to America or read and listen to the experiences of others. In addition to the oral histories, we’ve also added nearly 2 million new naturalization record indexes and additional Boston passenger and crew lists to the collection. Plus, through Labor Day, we’re opening our entire U.S. Immigration Collection to everyone – you can search all 170 million+ records with or without an subscription.

Hopefully you, too, will find your family’s Ellis Island – or Galveston, Baltimore, Angel Island, Philadelphia, Castle Garden, or another port entirely – connection. Let me know when you do.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. Jennifer Stringer

    I imagine that if I pay a lot of money, I’ll be as happy as she is. I have been waiting for to give me just one tidbit of my family history that they somehow managed to purchase and keep from me, to let me know if it is worth the money. So here it is, free weekend. I get to look up my grandparents immigration information, for free. Great opportunity. I have all of the pertinent information. Every little thing they asked for, plus the port they came in at. And lo and behold, nothing. Can’t find a thing. So,, I will keep my money and you will keep my information, and life will go on.

  2. Jennifer Re:#1

    Sometimes adding too much info to the search parameters is self-defeating – particularly if you mark everything exact.

    Try entering a bit less- like just names and year of immigration and see if that hellps.

  3. BEE

    If it’s a “foreign” surname, it often gets transcribed incorrectly – a T for an F or Y for a Z as has happened to me. A woman’s name also has to be the feminine spelling – in Polish, an a at the end instead of the “masculine” i. You also have to search for the “ethnic” name they came with, not how they or someone spelled it on the first census, or even their naturalization papers.
    If you know the name of the ship they came on, it might mean searching page by page.
    Sometimes just the first name and year they came will work if the name isn’t too common.
    I’ve done all of the above more then once!

  4. Barbara

    Jennifer Re:#1

    I’m sorry you are having such a hard time finding the records you are looking for. I think it’s a bit unfair to say Ancestry bought up all the records and is keeping them from you. Most of the records available on Ancestry are also available other places as well it is just that Ancestry makes them convenient to get to and that is why so many of us are willing to pay to subcribe.
    Have you tried the, Rootsweb, and state specific genweb sites? How about local historical societies in the areas you are interested in?
    I think finding immigration records is one of the hardest things to do but you seem to have more information about your immigrant ancestors than most of us.
    Good luck

  5. Off Topic
    unable to AddFact
    unable to UploadPhotos

    Would be informative to see a top-of-page Banner message giving a bit-o-warning~~~

    **heavy sigh** naptime

  6. Sprice

    Off Topic…Be nice if we had a page for that! Well…I see another hiccup on here, I guess I paid all those $$$ just to browse the page, sure can’t do anything else. Just remember this will be another notch on the list to let my subscription go.

  7. me

    typical you give us a freebee which i think made up for all the down time we have had this year but its now in accessable because your servers can’t cope. i feel like i am dealing with the shop on the corner instead of a multinational super market.

  8. cindy

    I’m “off topic” too–can’t add facts, folks, or photos. And the problem might not even be off the Ellis Island topic since Ancestry is running ads on every network this weekend. Maybe they haven’t acknowledged the problem because they shut down some of their functions to accommodate the Ellis Island traffic. This is part of why I let my subscription go (the other part being I’m poor).

  9. Carol A. H.

    Off topic:

    Can’t save new child to existing parents or census record to family. Anyone know of any particular Ancestry problems?

    Sumday 5:05 Pacific time

  10. Lemonegg

    Yes. From mid afternoon on I couldn’t save anything: member connect, add new people, save records. Anything.
    If it’s due to Ellis Island traffic, sure is a shame that’s how they treat us long time subscribers.

  11. cindy

    I hate to get angry with Ancestry. It’s practically my whole life, and every time I have made contact with customer service they have been super nice. But somebody in authority should wake up to the fact that their service almost always is disrupted after one of their dreaded “upgrades.” I know R & D has been up to something the last few weeks, and it was really stupid to run this Ellis Island promo before the changes settled in.

  12. Lemonegg

    I spoke too soon. Now when I click on a person in my tree, I get a “This feature is not available.” Sounds like another of those days when are subscriptions get extended.

  13. Bob

    This seems to be the only way to contact someone at Ancestry as to the inability to add stories and/or photos to individuals in my tree. This is one more cry for help. So excuse me for being off-topic due to the emergency. A message of acknowledgement to the Ancestry community, like “We know about the problem, and are acting to correct it,” would be nice to see, and also a responsible action. Best Wishes to all the members who are suffering the same problem. Bob

  14. Bob

    I just now was finally able to add a photo to an individual. An explanation from Ancestry would be appreciated. Best Wishes.

  15. Amy Peltekian

    Okay, I’m thinking of signing up but I’m not seeing whether I can download the documents that are found for my family. And, I’m not getting why I would pay for this long-term membership after a few months of digging through all info I have. What’s the scoop?

    Thank you,


  16. k.jett

    the advertisement said “free access weekend” for but when i try to go to pertinent info. i am shuttled off to a page that says “sign up now!free 14 day subscription!” But- when i go to it it only says which one you can BUY…anyway.i am trying the $19.95 per mo. one guess we’ll see -I know i probably fell into it!

  17. Lemonegg

    As this thread is now the official what’s not working thread:
    Searching Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin) will only return marriage records, not birth or death. Searching birth and baptism returns marriages labeled birth and baptism.

  18. John Pilger

    I’m feeling like Ms. Stringer (9/4 blog). Nothing is found to be an exact match to my relatives on the immigration records. When I try to look at the records in detail in this “free” weekend I am asked to register. Every name and email address I try to use for registration fails because someone else has that name and password. Imagine that, can’t find any relatives but every name my wife and I use with our email is taken! I think Ancestry just doesn’t really want to share the data. This makes me question the value of the 14-day trial that is offered. Maybe if I really felt I could track someone in my family down I might join.

  19. Mary Thies

    I’m sorry to see so many with negative things about Ancestry … I’ve been researching for 23 years and believe me, it was much more expensive & harder to get information before I was able to subscribe to Ancestry. I get my money’s worth in one month — I’m so thankful and they have been very helpful to me. Thank you, Ancestry — good work and I appreciate everything you provide.

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