In 1973, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum started collecting oral histories as a part of a new project. The interviews are not only of passengers, but also of former employees and military stationed there. The National Parks Service reports that there are now nearly 2,000 interviews.
On September 1st of this year Ancestry.com partnered with the museum to offer free access to close to 2,000 Ellis Island oral histories. The oral histories can be searched by: name, birth date or location, place of arrival or origin, or keyword. Each oral history includes the interviewee’s name, birth date and place, place of origin, port of arrival, ship name, year of arrival and age at arrival. It is a little tricky to search through them, since you have to enter search terms and cannot browse the collection, however, searching with broad terms will yield a good number of results.
It seems like this is a great resource to be made available to the public. You do have to create a username to access the collection, but it is still a lot less than they ask for fee-based document searching. 2,000 oral histories seems like a large collection – but I wonder how small it seems when searching it by narrow terms like last name, or when using multiple search terms. It seems more unlikely than likely that a user would be able to find a family member. This is not necessarily a problem, but I found it interesting considering ancestry.com is largely focused on genealogy. Either way, whether the material is of interest to users doing a family history or to researchers, this project is a great way of making the material much more useful than if it were only usable at the museum. Overall, it seems like a useful partnership between a history museum and a popular website.
To find out a little more or search the oral histories yourself, head to the ancestry.com Ellis Island Oral History website.