Ellis Island: Family History
~ Ellis Island ~
Coming to America
As Americas largest immigration station between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island played a significant role in many American family’s history. With more than 12 million immigrants passing through, it is estimated that nearly 40% of all Americans can trace at least one ancestor back to Ellis Island, all coming in search of a better life for themselves and their descendants.
Ellis Island History
Before Ellis Island opened, individual states managed immigration into the United States. Castle Garden was New York’s immigration station from 1855 to 1890 and processed over 8 million immigrants arriving by ship, mostly from Northern and Western Europe.
As it became clear a larger facility was needed, President Benjamin Harrison designated Ellis Island to be the site of the first Federal immigration station. The new facility opened on January 1, 1892.
In 1897, the original wood buildings as well as most of the immigration records dating back to 1855 were destroyed in a fire. Three years later a new fireproof facility was opened.
First and second class passengers who arrived in New York Harbor were not required to go through Ellis Island. The thought was that if they could afford a luxury ticket, they could afford to support themselves and would not become a public burden. Third class passengers, however, were treated differently. These immigrants traveled in crowded conditions in the belly of steamships and were sent directly to Ellis Island upon arrival.
Once there, they were cross examined with 29 questions and inspected by doctors for any noticeable health problems. If there were no concerns, they spent between 2-5 hours being processed through. Those, however, with significant ailments and questionable papers were either sent back to their country of origin or held in the island’s hospital. Because of those refused entry after their difficult voyage, Ellis Island was often referred to as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island”.
Between 1892 and 1914 approximately 10 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. While it was first thought that the facility could handle up to 5,000 people per day, numbers reached as high as 10,000. The peak year, 1907, saw approximately 1.25 million immigrants pass through.
As the United States entered World War I, immigration decreased. There was also growing sentiment among the politically powerful to limit immigration and barriers were put into place: a literacy test requirement was introduced in 1917 and quotas were instituted in 1921 and 1924. From 1925 to its closing in 1954, only 2.3 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. In 1954, Ellis Island ceased to be an immigration processing center.
President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It was opened to the public in 1976 but closed in 1984 for major restorations, the largest historic restoration in U.S. history. In 1990, the Main Building was reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and is now visited by up to 2 million people a year.
Did Ellis Island play a role in
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~ Ellis Island ~
Coming to America
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