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Voices of 1,700 immigrants now on Ancestry.com

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Sep. 1, 2010 at 10:10 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Millions of Americans have ancestors who passed through New York's Ellis Island. For years, anyone researching family history has had access to ships' manifests and immigration documents. Now, through Ancestry.com, anyone can listen to the immigrants tell their stories.

Memories of coming into New York Harbor in 1920 still evoke deep emotions decades later for Lawrence Meinwald, who voiced personal immigrant stories like these:


"People of all denominations, some on their knees making the sign of the cross, Jews in their prayer shawls, as we were passing the Statue of Liberty..."

"People of all denominations, some on their knees making the sign of the cross, Jews in their prayer shawls, as we were passing the Statue of Liberty..."

National Park Service employees began recording the stories of immigrants in the 1970s for the Ellis Island Museum. Now through Ancestry.com, everyone can listen.

Mike Ward with Ancestry.com described the advantages of hearing these stories: "The tears and emotions that these people felt, they've spent all of their life thinking about and hoping for a new life that they could get when they came to America... what freedoms of the United States represented to them and maybe what they should represent to us."

Among the more than 1700 oral histories, there's a very interesting Utah connection.

Sara Milanow Rovner immigrated to America in 1925 and remembered listening to an older man describe the scene from on board their ship, first seeing the Statue of Liberty.
Sara Milanow Rovner immigrated to America in 1925 and remembered listening to an older man describe the scene from on board their ship, first seeing the Statue of Liberty.

Isabel Belarsky from Russia told the story of how, when she was a little girl, her father Isador managed to stay in America.

Isador, an opera singer, taught music for several summers at the University of Utah. Then Brigham Young University officials helped him when he had to renew his visa.

Ward told the story of the crucial phone call. "He, over the phone, sang to this official, this immigration official. And he said, "OK, you're fine, you can stay.'"

The immigrants whose stories are told had adventures, experienced hardships and were left with lasting memories of hope.

Sara Milanow Rovner immigrated to America in 1925 and remembered listening to an older man describe the scene from on board their ship, first seeing the Statue of Liberty.

"'Here is the beautiful lady. I was waiting all my life to get here and to see her,' he said," Rovner recalled. "And I said, 'What beautiful lady?' And he said, 'Right here, you see her? You see how she's welcoming us?'"

Their stories, in their own words, are preserved for generations to hear.

Ancestry.com is offering its entire U.S. Immigration Collection free through Labor Day. The Ellis Island Oral History Collection will remain permanently free. CLICK HERE to tour the collection.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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Carole Mikita

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