January 1, 2011

Happy ’11!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:03 am
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‘Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three…’

Page 1 of Pepys' diary.

So begins the diary of Samuel Pepys, a man who considered the first day of a new decade significant, so the first of his ten years’ worth of diaries began on January 1, 1660.

Pepys’ diary, written in a personal shorthand,  was left – with 3,000 other volumes – to Magdalen College, Cambridge – upon his death, but remained untranslated until Rev. John Smith took on the job in 1819.  It took him three years to decipher Pepys’ code – no one knew that the key to the code had been left by Pepys in another manuscript.  The definitive version of the diary was not produced until 1970.

The Pennsylvania Quakers used the first day of the new year in 1788 to emancipate – officially – their slaves.  Their abolition movement had been going on for several years at that point.

Ellis Island arrivals, 1904. LoC PPD

And on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island was opened as a reception center for immigrants to the United States.  The previous official reception point had been Castle Garden on Castle Island, NY.  For thirty-five years, Castle Garden had seen almost eight million immigrants pass through, among them Harry Houdini, Carl Laemmle, William Morris, Joseph Pulitzer, Nikola Tesla, Charles Steinmetz and Adolph Zukor.

Ellis Island, btw, is actually in New Jersey.  New York and New Jersey have been arguing about who owns which islands in New York Harbor for quite a while, but this one actually got to the Supreme Court, which decided in Jersey’s favor.  But the island is now a national historic site and park managed by the Federal government, so it’s all moot anyhow.

Ellis Island, photo by Ken Thomas.

By the time Ellis Island was closed in 1954, more than 12 million immigrants had passed through the Great Hall.  It is estimated that currently about one-third of all American citizens are descended from those hardy souls.  The very last person to go through was a Norwegian sailor named Arne Peterssen.

You can search for your own Ellis Island connections at the Ellis Island Passenger Search website.

Historians and genealogists would like everyone to know that, contrary to rumor, immigration inspectors absolutely did not change people’s names.  Inspectors followed very stringent rules and that included copying ships’ lists exactly.  If you think your ancestor’s name got changed, it’s more likely that a ship captain did it or someone’s spelling in the old country was creative.

Enjoy one one one one – it’s pretty special.



  1. Jean; Look forward to your most creative blog. Happy New Year to a woman who truly inspires the writer in us! Deborah Turk


    Comment by Deborah Turk — January 1, 2011 @ 4:48 am | Reply

  2. thanx deb!


    Comment by jchatoff — January 1, 2011 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  3. My father told me that they wanted to change his name to Tom from Elconon; But he refused, So you could
    Happy New Year!


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — January 1, 2011 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  4. delightful thank you and best wishes


    Comment by avery — January 1, 2011 @ 11:38 am | Reply

  5. Thanks for a fortunate connection, Jean! My German-born grandfather changed his name himself from Gruen to Green after he jumped ship in Galveston, Texas in 1910. He and Grandma Teresa married on January 11, 1911. Ever after, they noted each decade when it was 2/2/22 and 3/3/33 etc. Per National Public Radio, 11/19/1999 was the last date which used all-odd numbers. A completely odd-numbered date will not occur again until 1/1/3111. People were gearing up for the new millenium and beginning to worry about Y2K on November 19, 1999.


    Comment by Celia Carroll — January 1, 2011 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  6. Very cool! happy 1-1-11 🙂


    Comment by Nina C — January 1, 2011 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  7. @Celia -very interesting – i love odd numerical facts…


    Comment by jchatoff — January 1, 2011 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

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