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Putting things right

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

But moves are already underway to place a headstone on the grave that was lost to history for eight decades but is now found again.
The extraordinary contrast between the lack of any marker on the grave and the bronze statue of Annie Moore on Ellis Island was brought into stark relief last Friday at a packed press conference at the headquarters of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in Manhattan.
The gathering of journalists, officials, descendants of Annie Moore and, in some cases, the merely curious, was convened by the City of New York’s Department of Records and Information Records in order to present the startling results of research carried out by professional genealogist, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak.
The press conference came in the wake of media reports that the widely accepted record of Annie Moore’s later life, and her 1924 death in Texas, had nothing to do with the life of the young girl from Cork who made history by being the first immigrant to step ashore on Ellis Island in 1892.
The news was out in advance of the press conference that there were two Annie Moores entangled in the historical record.
Their life stories had become interwoven through accident and happenstance, and a failure to fully research the lives of both women.
Most crucially, what was not known was the precise life story and fate of the Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame.
This was because it was commonly believed that Ellis Island Annie was one and the same with Annie Moore, a woman who, it turned out, was born in Illinois and who died in a streetcar accident in Texas in 1924.
As a result of this merging of two lives, Annie Moore of Cork and Ellis Island supposedly moved west in the years after her famous landing to Indiana, New Mexico and ultimately Texas.
In fact, she never left New York city and spent the rest of what was to be a tough and all too short life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Annie Moore married a German immigrant named Joseph Schayer who worked at the Fulton Street Fish Market. The couple had 11 children though not all survived birth and early infancy.
Annie Moore Schayer, her husband and children appear to have moved address a number of times over their years together, as people did then, but never more than a few streets at any one time.
Annie Moore then, grew into a New Yorker and rests to this day in a hallowed part of her adopted city.
“Annie Moore’s life started as an Irish story and ended as an American story,” Irish Consul General in New York, Tim O’Connor, told the Genealogical Society gathering.
The event was hosted by Brian Andersson, commissioner of the Department of Records and Information Services, and genealogist Smolenyak Smolenyak who, in something of a genealogical coincidence, is married to an unrelated man with whom she shares the same Carpatho-Russian surname.
It was Smolenyak Smolenyak’s research for a PBS documentary on immigration that ultimately led her to conclude that the Annie Moore who died in Texas was not the Annie Moore who departed Cobh (then Queenstown) with two of her young brothers on a voyage that would reunite the three with their parents in New York.
Smolenyak Smolenyak held all in the room captive last Friday as she outlined what was a gumshoe genealogical story spurred by nagging, unanswered questions and a series of clues that began with a New York City death certificate for Annie’s brother, Anthony Moore, dated 1902. He had died aged just 24.
The certificate listed a father named Matthew (the correct name) who had arrived in America at the right time, 1892.
The certificate, however, named a Julia Moore as the mother when for years it had been thought that Annie Moore’s mother had been named Mary.
This, however, was due to an incorrect 1892 newspaper account. Annie’s mother was indeed Julia Cronin Moore.
Undeterred by false trails, Smolenyak Smolenyak kept digging. It turned out that Matthew Moore, apparently a longshoreman, died in 1907. His son, who had been interred in a pauper’s grave, was disinterred and buried with him.
The press conference was then told of the discovery in local record files by commissioner Andersson of a naturalization certificate for Annie’s brother Philip. This was the so-called “smoking gun” document that placed Philip alongside Annie and Anthony on the SS Nevada out of Queenstown.
With the investigation now focused on a family being naturalized, living and dying in a corner of Manhattan made famous in later years by Al Smith, it wasn’t long before Annie was traced to a tenement in Monroe Street, where she first lived with her parents, and from there to a number of other addresses including one on Cherry Street close by the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge.
A marriage certificate was unearthed by Andersson at nearby St. James’s Catholic Church.
It was the first chapter in a family life that lives on to this day right across America.
Five of Joseph and Annie’s children survived to adulthood but just three of them had children of their own. Annie herself died in 1923, aged just 47, from heart failure.
“Annie lived a hardscrabble life. She sacrificed herself for the benefit of future generations,” Smolenyak Smolenyak said.
Six of Annie Moore’s children share her grave, a small plot covered with grass and, for the moment, nothing else.
“We’re going to rectify this,” promised Commissioner Andersson who promptly donated $500 — half of a reward offered and presented by Smolenyak Smolenyak as part of the hunt for Annie Moore — to a fund that will pay for a headstone in Calvary Cemetery.
Annie Moore’s descendents and the Cork Association in New York are also lining up to set the final seal on a life visited by fame, marked by hardship and sadness but which, ultimately, gave rise to new families of mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds boasting 10 different names and all of them living out their American dreams and birthrights.

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