New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Native New Yorker George D. Tselos, Supervisory Archivist and Head of Reference Services at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island since 1999 is the only federal employee at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum who had a parent who came through the island, though many of his co-workers had earlier ancestors who did so.
The son of the noted art historian Dimitri T. Tselos (1900-1996) who immigrated through the Ellis Island Immigration Station in 1915 as a teen-ager from a village in Arcadia, Greece, George Tselos is reminded of his father very frequently as he works, “I often pass along the balcony in the Museum overlooking the Registry Room where the inspections were done,” he told the GreekNews, “I think about how my dad must have sat there anxiously waiting his turn, knowing no English yet and concerned about traveling to Chicago to meet his older brother, after whom I’m named. My thoughts of him always help motivate me in my work.”
George Tselos has contributed significantly to the historical record of Greek America throughout his career. He has published articles in both historical and archival journals on a range of topics, including Greek-American Community history. He also advanced historical documentation projects related to Greek-America long before he went to the Ellis Island Museum including the microfilming in the early 1980s of Ethnikon Vima (National Greek Tribune) which had been published in Detroit for many years.
As well, Tselos arranged for the preservation of the historical archives of the Pan-Macedonian Society and of large numbers of the yearbooks of many other Greek-American local and regional organizations. Over the years he has spoken on the history of the Greek Community in the U.S. to various audiences. More recently, he worked extensively with the Greek filmmaker Maria Iliou in the making of her recent documentary, The Journey: The Greek-American Dream.
Tselos expressed regret that his father was no longer alive when he took his present position. “Unfortunately, my father passed away three years before I took the position here. I believe he would have been thrilled to have known that I was helping provide an accurate history of American immigration at the place where he first came into the United States.”
After emigrating to America Dimitri Tselos struggled to fulfill his vision for the future. Working as a busboy and waiter while going to the University of Chicago, he eventually earned a PhD degree from Princeton University and went on to join the Art History faculty first at New York University and later at the University of Minnesota. Professor Tselos was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for the academic year 1955-56 for research on Hellenic Art since the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s. It is believed that he was the first Greek immigrant to America who came back to Greece on the Fulbright Fellowship program which began shortly after World War II. He was active during World War II in Greek War Relief and in the 1967 – 1974 period in the anti-junta organization Greek-Americans for Freedom and Democracy in Greece.
George Tselos became a historian of his father’s adopted country. After earning a doctorate in modern American History at the University of Minnesota, George Tselos taught for several years at Monmouth College in Illinois and other schools before becoming an archival administrator, first at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit. He moved from there to the Center for History of Chemistry (then at the University of Pennsylvania), and the Historical Manuscript Division at the New York Public Library.
Prior to moving to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island in 1999, Dr. Tselos had been the Archivist for the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey, where he directed reference service dealing with the work and life of the pioneering American inventory Thomas Edison. The National Park Service operates both of these national historic institutions.
On March 3, 2008 Dr. Tselos was given public recognition by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. who presented him with an award at New York’s seventh annual Greek Heritage celebration, lauding the historian and archivist for “having worked to preserve the history and culture of our nation and City, and to share that history with younger generations.”
Referencing the fact that for the past nine years Dr. Tselos has served New York City with distinction as the Supervisory Archivist and head of Reference Services at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum, a unit of the National Park Service, Comptroller Thompson said, “Taking inspiration from the torch held high by Lady Liberty, Dr. Tselos has used the Museum Archives, Library and Oral History Program he oversees to cast his own light on the quest for freedom that led waves of immigrants to our shores. In recognition of his many years of dedicated service, it is my pleasure to present this Greek Heritage award to George Tselos”.
Parts II and III of The Ellis Island Immigration Museum series will appear in subsequent issues of the GreekNews. In Part 11, Dr. Tselos will describe more specifically his work at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island and draw attention to resources held there that would be of interest to the Greek-American community. In Part III, Dr. Tselos will share some of his thoughts regarding research on the Greek-American community and the history of the Hellenic Diaspora.