Thursday, November 18, 2010

Letters to Me: Castle Garden and the Wii

Like probably all of you, I get a variety of letters every day. I get letters in my e-mail inbox, letters in mailbox, and occasionally, hand-delivered letters. Today, I wanted to respond to two of them here. I’ve chosen two that I think represent the dichotomy of my life!

The first came to my e-mail last week:

Hi Leslie;

I saw your presentation at the GGG (German Genealogy Group) last week. You had a slide of an arrival record from Castle Garden in New York. I was wondering were you found these records since I thought they were all burned in a fire at Ellis Island.


PS I enjoyed your book.

Here’s my response:
Castle Garden records are not burned, but are alive and well. In fact, at that same German Genealogy Group meeting, I ate dinner with a group of people beforehand – one of whom had worked with the actual original Castle Garden arrival lists.

Castle Garden was the New York receiving station prior to Ellis Island. It functioned from 1855 until 1890. Ellis Island opened in 1892. Castle Garden has a really interesting history. You can about it here in an article I wrote a couple of years ago for History Channel Magazine. Castle Garden was the most important arrival port of its time. During some periods, nearly 80% of US arrivals came through Castle Garden.

As for records: You can access 11 million Castle Garden arrivals for free at This website covers the years 1820-1892, so it includes records of New York arrivals during times when Castle Garden was not the receiving port. Keep in mind though that the website does not have all the records for this period. It also links to transcribed entries, not original records. If you have an Ancestry subscription, or at least access to one, you can access all the New York arrivals here. These are linked to images of the actual lists.

If you have been to visit Ellis Island, you have seen Castle Garden – but probably didn’t even know it. It is the building where you buy your tickets! I find this a little sad, but the Battery Conservancy is working to restore it, so maybe it will get more recognition in the future.

Now, for the second letter…This was a hand-delivered letter from my eight-year-old son. They had an assignment in school to write a persuasive letter. (Let me preface it by saying that we have a family rule that my children can only play wii on Fridays and Saturdays – except in special circumstances such as school holidays or when children are home sick and playing wii would directly contribute to preserving everyone’s sanity.):

Dear Mom,

I love wii so please let me play wii on weekdays. I will do all my homework including spelling. I will only play for twenty minutes. A lot of my friends do. I will play outside first for an hour. A lot of my friends do. I will read for a long time. I should be able to play wii on weekdays.


Do you like how he included the fact that “a lot of his friends do” two different times?

My response: No.

It is pretty cute though, isn’t it? The truth is – he doesn’t have time to play wii on weekdays. With homework, piano practice, and then whatever of the many extracurricular activities one or the other of them is in, we don’t exactly sit around the house looking for something to do.

Here's a photo of Taylor so you can have the entire persuasive effect!

Tonight, I fly to Baltimore. It's going to be an exciting weekend!


  1. How can you say no to that face? It's easy if you're a Mom. Good for him for writing the letter, and good for you for sticking to the rules!

  2. Awww-what a cutie-pie! Glad to know there are still "mean" Moms out there. My sister's answer to her children (when they told her she was being M-E-A-N) was, "Oh good, then I must be doing my job right"

    And PS - I also enjoyed your book. I keep meaning to blog about it. Having ancestors from Mecklenburg it was so wonderful to read something that gave me insight into their day-to-day lives.

  3. You are so strong. All he would have had to do to get me to give in would be to flash that smile!

  4. Thanks Diana. If you do blog about it, let me know, and I will mention it here. (And, he is a cutie pie, isn't he?)