Thursday, February 04, 2010

Could This Be Annie Moore at Ellis Island?

The story of Annie Moore’s arrival at Ellis Island is a compelling one. She was the first immigrant to arrive on January 1, 1892. For the last several years, genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has been researching and writing about Annie's life. You can read about Megan’s research in The Story of the First Through Ellis Island is Rewritten by Sam Roberts. In response to this article two relatives from different branches contacted Megan and asked if a photo they had seen at Ellis Island could be Annie.

It depicts three children standing near a long spindled bench inside a building. Along the back wall, is a large group of people standing in line. The question is: “Could this be Annie and her brothers?” This is something I’ve been consulting on since October 2008, when Megan first contacted me to look at  this photograph. On February 2nd, Megan posted a story about Annie in the Huffington Post and mentioned my work with the possible photos of Annie. Thank you Megan!

With all photo mysteries there are a series of steps and questions that lead to a conclusion. Here’s the evidence for these photos.

Picture 1: Three Children

Provenance (ownership clues)
This unlabeled image was found in a group of photos donated by the grandson of Colonel John B. Weber, who was the first Superintendent at Ellis Island. He gave Annie a coin when she arrived there. These are supposed to be photographs he either took himself or had taken, rather than media images. The majority of the photos are identified as the Barge Office in Battery Park, which is where immigrants disembarked in 1890. The two individuals that contacted Megan saw this image towards the back of a three-ring binder. Both contacted her at different times asking if this could be Annie.

I haven’t seen the binder or the photo. Photo albums tell a story through the placement and context of the images. Is the three-ring binder the original album or was there an original that was taken apart? This was common practice. If that’s the case then the context of this photo in relation to the other images is now lost.

Architectural Evidence
The problem in identifying the location of this scene is the lack of photographs of the interior of both buildings--Ellis Island and the Barge Office. Photo albums often tell a story based on the selection and arrangement of images in one. The placement of a picture in an album can determine many things. In this case it could help pinpoint where the image was taken. If it was surrounded by images of the Barge Office, it could’ve been taken there or if it was stuck in the back it’s possible it could be the interior of Ellis Island. The first Ellis Island opened in 1892 and was destroyed by fire in 1897.

In the Huffington Post, Megan showed a portion of an engraving of Ellis Island that appeared in an 1893 Harper’s magazine. The ceiling supports in both images are similar to those used in buildings in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, Megan hasn’t discovered any architectural drawings for Ellis Island. These would be helpful. I'd also love to see a list of the furniture ordered for various parts of the first Ellis Island or for the items used at the Barge Office.

Historical Documentation
The identification of Annie as the girl in this image is based on a description of her arrival that appeared in the New York Recorder. Megan searched a wide range papers and found other mentions of Annie's arrival, including one that described her as being "buxom."

The First to Land
“When she was made fast a rosy-cheeked little Irish girl in a short dress, with a wooly sack buttoned close about her and bareheaded tripped laughingly down the gangplank.”

Family Information

There are various ages assigned to Annie and her two brothers. What’s known is that they immigrated to New York in 1891 and that Annie was first to step foot on Ellis Island when the facility opened on January 1,1892. According to Megan’s research, on the departure manifest from the U.K. their ages are as follows: Annie, 15, Anthony, 11 and Phillip, 8. Upon arrival in the U.S., Annie’s age is listed as 13, Anthony as 11 and Phillip is 7. Birth information on the siblings: Annie's actual age was 17, Anthony was 15 and Phillip 12.

Clothing Details
The boy on the left wears a tight fitting jacket and a cap with short pants. This was typical for boys in the early 1890s. Generally boys older than 12 didn’t wear short pants, by then males were considered young men and as such wore long pants.

The girl in the center is wearing a youthful hairstyle. This is the hair of a young teen. Girls in their late teens wore their hair up in a topknot, not down. She wears a tight fitting short jacket. The newspaper said that Annie wore a short dress. Short means less than floor length. Again this is the fashion for a young teen. Older girls wore full length dresses like a grown woman. The clothing mentioned in the newspaper fits the description of the items worn by this girl.

The youngest boy's clothing is very dark in this image and difficult to see.

It's possible that Annie and Anthony deliberately dressed as younger teens. Was there a lower fare for younger children?

Pictorial Evidence
These three individuals are standing out from the crowd and posed for this picture. This signifies that the photo was likely taken to document an event. Colonel Weber would've wanted a picture taken to commemorate the opening of Ellis Island.

At the end of this analysis, I asked Megan if there were any other photos of the Moore children for facial comparison.

Picture #2: Annie as a young mother

A relative found this image in a family collection. A caption on the back states this is "Ma Schayer." Schayer was Annie Moore’s married name.

Family information
Annie was born in 1874 and married in 1895. She had 11 children.

Clothing Details
This style of coat was popular during 1893-1896. The wide sleeves date the coat. It’s a heavy wool coat. She doesn’t look like she had the means to change her clothes with every fashion whim so she might have worn it longer. She wears her hair in a topknot. This was common in the late 1890s. Most women wore their topknots at the crown but she’s chosen to wear it in the front. It looks like she’s got thin hair so it could be that this worked best for her.

The child’s coat was fashionable c. 1895. It was worn by girls. Boy’s coats in this period have a more tailored look. The child wears a thin fabric dress with long pantalettes to keep her legs warm. She’s young--probably less than two years of age. According to Megan, Annie’s first daughter was born in 1897. This could be that daughter.

Pictorial Evidence
This photo was taken in the winter months. The studio is not very prosperous. There is an old oilcloth on the floor and a simple stone bench. This type of bench usually appears in earlier photos in a studio setting made to look like the outdoors. In the 1890s studios usually featured wicker benches. Perhaps this photographer bought a used prop or was in business for a long time.

If the first photo is Annie at 17, then she’s changed quite a bit. Here she’s a grown woman with a child and much thinner in the face than the young girl. However, it’s important to remember that in the late nineteenth century, girls often matured later than girls do today. This could make a difference in the appearance of a 17 year old vs. a 20 year old.

Picture 3: Annie as an older woman (This photo appear in a second story by Sam Roberts , Relatives Say Photos Depict Ellis Island’s First Immigrant)

This is yet another image positively identified by family as Annie Moore. Megan informed me that two branches of the family independently supplied these identified photos of Annie, with the same handwriting on the back. The captions read, "Ma Schayer."

So the real question is—Are all three women Annie? It’s quite likely. Forensic facial analysis combined with all the pictorial evidence strongly suggests that this is the case.

The most difficult photo identification technique involves comparing facial characteristics. In particular it is helpful to look at the following:
Shape of face: oval, heart shaped, round, square
Eyes (shape, position, color, size)
Nose and nostrils (shape, position, size)
Ears (shape, size, position on head, length)
Hair pattern (baldness, widow’s peaks)
Eyebrows (size, shape)

In facial comparison, in addition to looking at facial features, it’s important to study the measurements between specific features, such as the length of the tip of the ear to the point of the chin, and the space between the eyes. It’s about matching up the points in a face and then comparing those to another face.

The three images of Annie have significant similarities, although it is difficult to compare fine facial details due to the resolution of the pictures. In particular, the third picture of Annie looks particularly like the girl posed with the two boys. The shape of face, eyes, mouth and even ears seem to match.

Tim McCoy of Ireland sent Megan a fascinating comparison of the significant points in the first two pictures of Annie. It’s also clear that they match. Here are some of his overlay images.

 In this side by side comparison, the young girl is on the right and on the left is the photo of Annie as a mother with the other image layered on top of it. The bright dots are significant points where the two images match.  Thank you Tim!

Since the family has positively identified the picture of the mother and the older woman as Annie, then the facial comparisons suggest that the first one could be Annie as well.

I'd really like to obtain a higher resolution image of the three children just to see what it looks like. In photo identification cases, looking at original print is ideal. By seeing it I can determine whether it's an original nineteenth century photograph or a copy.  This means I need to make a trip to New York City.

Photo identification is based on both objective and subjective evidence. It's all about adding up the clues. In the case of these three photos of a woman, it’s quite likely that Megan has solved the mystery of the unidentified young woman and as a result of her searching now has a timeline of images of Ellis Island’s first immigrant.


Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Excellent analysis, Maureen. If this is the case, this photo is a true treasure for Ellis Island, students of American history, and all proud descendants of immigrants that made a similar journey to America - particularly those with Irish heritage.

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Kathryn Doyle said...

So interesting, Maureen. Thanks for taking us step-by-step through the process!

Anonymous said...

I think it interesting that the people in line in the background seem to be looking at this scene instead of facing forward that most people would do while standing in line. Is it possible they are watching this photo being taken because they know it is of historic significance, i.e. the first arrival at Ellis Island?

Kinnextions said...

Thank you for this fascinating piece of research!

I notice that the people in the background are all looking in the direction of the photographer and the 3 children: perhaps further proof that the occasion was momentous.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Fascinating analysis. Thank you for sharing. Like many, I have followed Megan's stories with great interest!

Bill ;-)

Abba-Dad said...

I found a different version of this photo and posted it on my blog. Looks like Snooki was the first immigrant at Ellis Island :-)

Joking aside, this is fascinating stuff!

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