History is this week juggling with two Annie Moores.
And the truth, as they say, is indeed stranger than fiction.
A leading genealogical researcher is combining with the City of New York’s Department of Records and Information Records this week in a press conference that will dramatically change the historical record as it pertains to the first immigrant to land on Ellis Island more than a century ago.
The Irish Echo is aware of what is to be announced, but in deference to descendants of Annie Moore, who are traveling to New York for the press conference, these details are being withheld until after the event itself.
This much we can reveal: The story of Annie Moore moving West – variously to Indiana and New Mexico and ultimately Texas – getting married and dying in a Texas train accident in 1924 has nothing to do with the life of the teenage girl from County Cork who made immigration history on New Year’s Day, 1892.
Simply put, there were two Annie Moores. Their lives became entangled and intertwined in the historical record largely by accident and happenstance.
The Annie Moore who died in Texas was not an immigrant from Cork. It appears that she was the daughter of Irish immigrants and was born in Illinois.
It has been Illinois Annie’s descendants who have been linked over the years to the Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame.
That link will be publicly sundered this Friday at the press conference set for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in Midtown Manhattan.
But the press conference will also serve as a stage for reaffirming Annie Moore’s credentials as the first immigrant to step ashore on Ellis Island.
She did so after a 12-day trans-Atlantic voyage from Cobh (then Queenstown) along with her younger brothers, Philip and Anthony.
The journey reunited the three Moore children with their parents, Matthew and Mary, who had made an earlier crossing to New York.
The voyage is memorialized today on both sides of the ocean with statues by Irish sculptor Jeanne Rynhart.
The Cobh statue is of Annie and her brothers. The Ellis Island statue is of Annie alone and is located on the second floor of the island’s immigration museum.
It was unveiled by then President Mary Robinson at a dedication ceremony in 1993. The sculpture depicts Annie, one hand on her hat with the other holding a small suitcase.
That’s not all…
The precise circumstances of Annie’s landfall – which occurred on her 15th birthday – have been obscured a little with time.
There is story that several bearded Russian men were asked to stand aside and allow the young Irish teen to step ashore first – this because there was a plan to strike a commemorative china plate in honor of the occasion.
Another version of the story is that an Irishman named Mike Tierney called on a German man to step aside and allow Annie Moore first honors.
Either way, Moore led three shiploads of hopeful immigrants ashore that day and was duly presented with a $10 gold coin as a keepsake by officials including Charles Hendley of the U.S. Treasury.
In being first, Annie Moore denied the second recorded immigrant, another young Irishwoman named Ellie King, a chance for undisputed immortality.
But Annie’s precise and recorded role in U.S. immigration history is no longer undisputed.
It would have remained undisturbed, however, but for the work of genealogist Megan Smolenyak.
New Jersey-based Smolenyak is nothing if not precise when it comes to a discipline where one wrong turn can lead the researcher barking up the wrong family tree.
But in the case of Annie Moore, precision was frustrated for a time by the pressure of other work. But the nagging thought remained. Smolenyak could not join up the life of Annie Moore at the end of her accepted life with the young woman who had made history at Ellis Island.
“I really found out by accident,” Smolenyak told the Echo.
“I was working on a documentary on immigration for public television and was planning on a segment on Annie Moore and her descendants,” she explained.
More in need of visual illustration than information on a life story that was generally accepted as fact, Smolenyak started down the paper trail in pursuit of Annie Moore.
“It’s was a bit like trying to find the needle in a haystack because it’s not an uncommon name,” said Smolenyak, who is half Irish.
“But the documentation said that Annie Moore had been born in Illinois. I ignored this at first because documents are wrong all the time. But more and more documentation cropped up pointing to Illinois,” Smolenyak said.
So began the search…
Curious and troubled by what she was finding, Smolenyak nevertheless had to set aside her investigation for several years because of other projects.
When she returned to the Annie Moore trail one of her first stops was the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It was holding an exhibit on immigration and included in the displays was a photograph of Annie Moore with one of her children.
This was Illinois Annie and something about her facial features did not set well with Smolenyak.
Still, the photo was not clear evidence pointing away from Illinois Annie because it was the only purported photo of Annie in existence. Nobody took Annie’s picture at Ellis Island, or at least if they did it has remained unknown and hidden down the years.
Smolenyak, at this point, tried a novel approach. People are fascinated by family histories and the internet has made it easier for would-be genealogists to explore the darker corners of even the most widely accepted accounts.
So she posted a reward of $1,000 on the internet for information that would solve the mystery.
Said Smolenyak: “So people went off on a chase and came up with results in just a few weeks. There was no intentional deception in the case of Annie Moore from Illinois. She was Annie Moore, and she was of Irish origin. But this was turning into a classic case of family stories getting mixed up.”
The case for Illinois Annie had been made a number of years ago by one of her surviving children, a daughter, who said that the young woman depicted on the china plate had been her mother.
“It was similar to the situation where anybody named Boone thinks they have to be related to Daniel Boone. This was a typical immigrant family story,” said Smolenyak.
And of course it was entirely plausible that Ellis Island Annie might have headed West to marry a man named O’Connell — who claimed his family was linked to Daniel O’Connell — that she had had ended up in Texas with a passel of kids, only to die at age 47 after being struck by a train in Waco.
Nothing was a stretch in the Annie story – except for the records that intriguingly pointed to a birth in a county in Illinois, not the Southern tip of Ireland and a genealogist’s hunch that the woman in the sole photograph attributed to Ellis Island Annie was someone else.
“The story is just as good as it ever was,” Brian Andersson, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Records told the Echo.
It certainly is. But now it has an entirely new second part and, at its end, a twist that will cause quite a stir.
Smolenyak and Andersson will be revealing the newly minted Annie Moore story at the week’s end press conference.