Ancestral footfall on Ellis Island

My cousin, John, and me during a trip to New York and both of whom posses what is referred to in the family as the Feeney chin.

My cousin, John, and me during a trip to New York for the city’s marathon and both of us displaying what is referred to among the extended family as the “Feeney chin”.

I like to think I have a tenuous familial connection with NYC as my grandmother–née Feeney–had two brothers who traveled from Ireland to make a new life in America during the early 20th century.

One visit I made to NYC coincided with my mother and aunt taking a holiday there at the same time, and the three of us took a ferry along the waters of the Hudson River, past the Statue of Liberty, to Ellis Island, where immigrant arrivals–including my grandmother’s brothers (so my great uncles, I guess) were processed.

There we searched the computer database for the two brothers’ names and found their arrival documents, giving details such as their ages (19 and 20, I think) and the ship that had carried them on that distant journey. It was strange to suddenly feel a connection to them–a digital one at that–having never really known anything about them or met them before.

I remember my first trip to New York in my early twenties and standing in the flat where I was staying, looking out from the 22nd story, or thereabouts, surveying the skyline and thinking, Holy Moly, what a place, or something to that effect.

A very different city would have greeted my Feeney great uncles, and sometimes I wonder about what their eyes must have alighted on and what thoughts must have bombarded their awestruck minds as they ventured out into the streets of that strange, bewildering city.