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Letter: NYC genealogist responds to local column

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I just read a column by Raymond Williams in the Journal Review. Just to clear up a matter that is a popular myth: no one’s name was ever changed at Ellis Island. I do not know what his elder brother uncovered in his genealogical research, but I can assure you that no passenger list was ever amended in any way. Immigrants themselves changed their own names. No official at Ellis Island had the time or the authority to change a name. One can understand the desire to have an American-sounding name in order to assimilate .... especially a German name as anti-German sentiment had been around for quite a while, especially around World War I.

Certainly, any evidence to the contrary is welcome, but as a genealogist of note for 40 years specializing in Ellis Island arrivals, I can positively state that Wilhelm became Williams at the immigrant’s own behest, just as my Swedish families’ Nilsson and Johanssons became Nelsons and Johnsons.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the column. We are an amazing country!

Brian G. Andersson

Former Commissioner

New York City Department of Records

 

P.S. You can google my name in connection with Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island for further edification.

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