The PBS series “Genealogy Roadshow” is the same as only different from “Who Do You Think You Are?”. The refreshing premise is that professional genealogists are working for average people who are looking for genealogical answers: Am I descended from Ponce de Leon? Am I related to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or any famous or infamous person?
“Who Do You Think You Are?” (WDYTYA) is a very entertaining show. Famous personalities who jet off to Barcelona as easily as I go to Home Depot. OK, I can accept that. They live in their world and I live in mine. The upside of this all is that the stories are compelling.
“Genealogy Roadshow” is equally entertaining and equally compelling. And it’s the opposite: Famous person to average ancestors versus average person to famous ancestors.
I was a bit taken aback when Joshua Taylor‘s comments about the Ellis Island myth seemed to substantiate that people’s names were changed at Ellis Island. The simple answer is that they were not. Joshua attributes the way his comments came across to editing. Here’s a link to his blog on the subject. He states here what I’ve already learned and what I say to people who seem to have the name-changed-at-Ellis-Island syndrome. The manifests were written in the country of origin and, for the most part, WHERE THE LANGUAGE WAS SPOKEN. Most of the documents that were used at Ellis Island were handled by people who were familiar with those languages. Did anyone’s name change? Absolutely. Was it a capricious act by a government official who was too lackadaisical to “get it right”? Absolutely NOT! Were there spelling errors? Absolutely. Did the immigrant him- or herself make the change? More than likely.
Consider someone of Eastern European origin with a name that was profoundly unpronounceable by a native born citizen. How could that person even begin to be accepted in a community, get a place to live in that community and most importantly, get a job? Were some (or many) of these folks illiterate? Sure. Did it make a big difference to them if their name was misspelled? Probably not. Did Wojzonowska become Waters? Maybe!
So Joshua Taylor does a little bit of a walk-back which I’m glad he did. As I watched the Roadshow and heard Joshua, I said to myself, “What???”
At least he cleared it up. Good for you Joshua!
- Joshua Taylor Clarifies His Comments about Ellis Island Made on Genealogy Roadshow (eogn.com)
- Your Ancestor’s Surname Was Not Changed Upon Arrival In The US At Ellis Island; Dick Eastman Has Updated His Writing On The Subject; Link To His Post Included (genealogywithtony.wordpress.com)
- Take a Peek Inside Ellis Island’s Abandoned Baggage and Dormitory Building Falling to Ruin (theblaze.com)
- Want to Appear on Genealogy Roadshow? (eogn.com)