Generation saga: Relatives of Annie Moore traced

First person to pass through Ellis Island in 1892 a ‘bridge between Ireland and America’

She's been the symbol of generations of Irish emigrants full of hope leaving home to carve out a new life in America. But it is only now – almost 125 years after she became the first person to pass through Ellis Island in New York – that Annie Moore's relatives in Ireland have been traced.

Long something of a mystery and indeed the victim of mistaken identity up until 2006, Annie Moore is finally about to have her story told thanks to the effort of American genealogist, Megan Smolenyak – the woman who traced President Obama's Irish ancestors to Moneygall in Co Offaly.

Smolenyak was working on a TV documentary on immigration into America in 2002 when she began researching Annie Moore who, aged just 17 years, on New Year's Day 1892 stepped off the SS Nevada and into history by becoming the first emigrant to pass through the new Ellis Island Immigration Inspection Station.

Smolenyak's research established that a woman generally assumed to the Irish emigrant had actually been born in Illinois. Instead, she said she found the real Annie Moore had lived at Rutgers Street on the Lower East Side of New York.


"Annie had come to New York in 1892 with her younger brothers, Anthony and Phillip to join their parents Matthew and Julia who had come over before them and I established that she married the son of German immigrants, Joseph Augustus Schayer in 1895," said Smolenyak.

“I was able to trace her descendants – she had eleven children but five of them died before the age of three – all from different causes but all of which could be traced back to poverty, they lived in a tenement, and she died herself at the age of 50 from heart failure.”

Renewed vigour

Smolenyak duly tracked down Annie's descendants but her curiosity about Annie's Irish relatives grew and, conscious of next year being the 125th anniversary of Annie's arrival in New York, she set about the challenge of finding her relatives back in Co Cork with renewed vigour.

Her research led her to trace Annie's father, Matthew, to Watergrasshill and Annie's mother, Julia, to Glounthaune and the Moore family to Cork city where, last week with help from Irish genealogist, Tim McCoy, she made contact with Annie's Irish relative, Tom Long from Mayfield.

Yesterday, Tom and his sister Lila and his cousins, Noel and Frank Brett and Eilis Linehan gathered at Annie's statue at Cobh from where she departed for the US as they reflected on the discovery that they were first cousins, twice removed to someone so famous.

“I had no inkling at all that we were related to Annie Moore,” said Tom “it was a huge surprise to us but we were all delighted to discover we were related to her - the honour of it really – but there’s also an element of sadness when you think of all the emigrants like her who left Ireland.”

Smolenyak said: “For me, finding Annie’s Irish relatives was like a mixture of satisfaction, relief and delight because I think of Annie as like a bridge between Ireland and America and finding only her American relatives was telling only half the story. Now we can tell the full story of her life.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times