Ellis Island - Gateway to America for Many
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For General Information call (212) 363-7620, or write the National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, New York, NY 10004.

Hours of Operation:
Both Liberty Island and Ellis Island are open every day of the year except December 25 from 9:30am until 5:00pm

(with extended hours in the summer).

Links of Interest
Official web site of The Statue 
of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. 

The History Channel Interactive Site

Statue of Liberty/
Ellis Island Foundation:

National Park Service site on 
Ellis Island National Monument:

Hall of Names International Inc.,
480 Bath Rd. Suite 100
Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Toll Free 1-866-MYROOTS
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Ellis Island is a symbol of America's immigrant heritage. For more than six decades - 1892 to 1954 - the immigrant depot processed the greatest tide of incoming humanity in the nation's history. Over twelve million people landed here; today their descendents account for 40% of the country's population. Opened on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island ushered in a new era of immigration with each newcomer's eligibility to land now determined by federal law. The government established a special bureau to process the record numbers that were arriving at the end of 19th century. More than 70% landed in New York, the country's largest port.

In his book A Nation of Immigrants, John F. Kennedy writes, "There were probably as many reasons for coming to America as there were people who came. It was a highly individual decision." Historians agree that three social forces were the chief motivators for the mass migration to America: religious persecution, political oppression, and economic hardship.

Ellis Island is a small island in Upper New York Bay, although in New Jersey waters, it is under the political jurisdiction of New York. It was a major immigration station for the United States from 1892 to 1943 and an immigrant detention station until 1954. Since 1965, it has been part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

Early History:
The island was named for Samuel Ellis, who owned the island in the 1770s. It was purchased by the federal government from New York State in 1808 and was used as a fort. After the creation of the Immigration Bureau (1891), the immigration station was moved from Castle Garden 
(at Battery Park, Manhattan) to Ellis Island.

At Ellis, immigrants were examined and either admitted or deported; at the height of its activity, the Ellis Island station could process 1 million people a year.

History Center
To help descendants of Ellis Island immigrants find their ancestors, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation has opened The American Family Immigration History Center. At this new education and research facility on Ellis Island, you will be able to search for immigration information about your ancestors on a newly- designed computer system. 

The information on these computers will come directly from original ships' manifests, which are currently on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration. From the computer, you will potentially be able to learn all of the following about an immigrant ancestor:

Given Name Port of Origin
Surname Nationality
Gender Arrival Date
Age Last Residence
Ship Name Line # on Manifest
Marital Status  

The Journey
Leaving Home
On Board
Beyond The Island
For many, the decision to leave was a family affair. Advice was sought – and help was freely given by entire families, friends, and even villages. The practice of one member of a family going to America first, then bringing others over, was common. From 1900 to 1910, almost 95 percent of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were joining either family or friends. Often those who arrived first would send a prepaid ticket back home. It is believed that in 1890 between 25 and 50 percent of all immigrants arriving in America possessed prepaid tickets. In 1901, between 40 and 65 percent came either on prepaid tickets, or with money sent to them from the United States.

After 1900, in addition to a ticket, however, an immigrant had to secure a passport from local officials, and a US visa from either American consular office or from the local consul at the port.

For many, simply getting to the port was the first major journey of their lives. Sometimes travelers would have to wait days, weeks and even months at the port, either for their paperwork to be completed or for their ship to arrive. Steamship lines were held accountable for medical examinations of the immigrants before departing the port. Most seaport medical examinations were just too rapid to disclose any but the most obvious diseases. 

Finally, the immigrants were led down the gangplank to first-class, second-class, or steerage. Steerage passengers walked past the tiny deck space, squeezed past the machinery, and were directed down stairways into the enclosed lower decks. They were now in their prison for the rest of their ocean journey.

Three types of accommodations on the ships brought immigrants to America: 
first class, second class, and steerage.

Steerage was enormously profitable for steamship companies. Even though the average cost of a ticket was only $30, larger ships could hold from up to 2,000 immigrants, netting a profit of $45,000 to $60,000 for a single one-way voyage.

For most, the experience of steerage was a nightmare. The conditions were crowded, dark, unsanitary, and so foul smelling, that they were the single most important cause of America’s early immigration laws. Unfortunately, the laws were almost impossible to enforce. In spite of the miserable conditions, they had faith in the future. To pass the time they would play cards, sing, dance, and talk. Rumors about life in America, combined with stories about rejections and deportations at Ellis Island, circulated endlessly. They rehearsed answering the immigration inspectors’ questions, and hours were spent learning the new language.

By the time the trip approached its long-awaited end, most immigrants were physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. Yet, even with the shores of a New World looming before their eyes, their journey was not at an end.

Medical inspectors boarded incoming ships in the quarantine area at the entrance to the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. The quarantine examination was conducted aboard ship and reserved for first – or second-class cabin passengers. Very few cabin-class passengers were marked to be sent to Ellis Island for more complete examinations.  In 1905, of 100,000 cabin passengers arriving in New York, only 3,000 had to pass through Ellis Island for additional medical checks. During the same year, 800,000 steerage passengers were examined at the island.

After the visiting medical inspectors climbed down ladders to their waiting cutter, the ship finally moved north through the Narrows leading to Upper New York Bay and into the harbor. The first object to be seen, and the focus of every immigrant’s attention, was the Statue of Liberty.  Just beyond the statue is Ellis Island. After the ship had docked in Manhattan, and cabin passengers were departing to the freedom of New York, steerage passengers poured across the pier to a waiting area. Each wore a name tag with the individual’s manifest number written in large letters. The immigrants were then assembled in groups of 30, according to their manifest letters, and were packed on barges, while their baggage was piled on the lower decks.

Soon they would arrive at the island’s landing slip and be led to the Main Building‘s large reception room. 
With the ground still swaying beneath their feet, and the shouts of a dozen different languages assaulting their ears, they met their first American, an interpreter. The interpreter's patience and skill frequently helped save an immigrant from deportation. The interpreters led groups through the main doorway and up a steep stairway to the Registry Room. Unaware, the immigrants were already taking their first test: a doctor stood at the top of the stairs watching for signs of lameness, heavy breathing that might indicate a heart condition, or "bewildered gazes" that might be symptomatic of a mental condition.

As an they passed, a doctor, with an interpreter at his side, would examine the immigrant. On about 20% of the immigrants who passed he would scrawl a large chalk white letter; which meant the immigrant was to be detained for further medical inspection.

If immigrants had any of the diseases proscribed by the immigration laws, or were too ill or feeble-minded to earn a living, they would be deported. Sick children ages 12 or older were sent back to Europe alone and children younger than 12 had to be accompanied by a parent for the journey.

Immigrants who passed their medical exams were now ready to take the final test from the "primary line" inspector, with the ship’s manifest on a desk in front of him and an interpreter at his side. This process was designed to verify the 29 items of information contained on the manifest. Each inspector had about two minutes to decide whether an immigrant was "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to land," nearly all of the immigrants received nods of approval and were handed landing cards.

Those with landing cards in hand moved to the Money Exchange. Here cashiers exchanged gold, silver, and paper money from countries all over Europe to American dollars.

For those traveling beyond New York City, the next stop was the railroad ticket office. There agents collectively sold as many as 25 tickets a minute on the busiest days. When it time for their train’s departure, they would be ferried to the train terminals in Jersey City or Hoboken. Immigrants going to New England went on to Manhattan. With admittance cards, railroad or ferry passes, and box lunches in hand, the immigrants’ journey to and through Ellis Island was complete. For many it had begun months or even years before.