This video is a wonderful introduction to the subject of Ellis Island because it shows immigrants ariving in 1902 and it’s not hard to imagine what was going through their minds as they stepped onto American soil for the first time, carrying all their hopes and dreams of a better future. Over a third of the American population have ancestors who were once immigrants who came through Ellis Island. And visitors to the Island from overseas today frequently come to trace relatives of theirs who landed here.
The Island itself is not as it was originally. Once quite small, what is today called Ellis Island is largely made up of land reclaimed from 1892-1934. 1890 was the year in which the Federal Govt took over control of all immigration. Previously NYC had processed everyone who arrived, but once the Feds were in charge they built a large wooden structure to aid the processing of immigrants. It was opened for operation in 1892. In 1897 the original wooden building was burnt down and the current red brick building was built and reopened in 1900,. It was in operation until 1954. In that time over 12 million immigrants were processed through the Center.
Only 2% of the people who arrived were rejected, all for reasons of insanity, disease or criminality. Immigrants did however have to demonstrate that they had sufficient resources to support themselves when they arrived. Some who were ill for held in hospitals on the island and all immigrants had to undergo a medical examination. Many immigrants were met by family members who had already arrived or by ethnic societies set up to help new fellow immigrants and to vouch for them to the authorities.
Of course many people who come to Ellis Island today are trying to trace relatives of theirs and Ellis Island has generous geneology resources including worshops, The American Family Immigration Center, the Historical Research Center and the Immigrant Wall of Honor. Go here to find all records online Arrival Information Online
Ellis Island is accessed via Ferry from Communipaw terminal in Liberty State Park (Jersey City) or from Battery park in Lower Manhattan, see Ellis Island Transportation From Battery park for all details about subway, bus and car transportation to Battery Park terminal. There are a few do’s and dont’s. Do book online first then arrive very early or you will have over an hour wait to get on the ferry. It will take you at least 4 hours to cover some of Ellis Island. Do not attempt to visit both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the one day, you will not do justice to either. Stay on the ferry when it stops at Liberty Island first and just continue onto Ellis Island.
Bring a picnic unless you want to pay hefty prices for indifferent fast food and dress for the weather. If it’s winter carry an umbrella and if summer bring sunblock. You will have to pay for the ferry but once you are on the Island all activities are free. There’s plenty of intereactive stuff for kids and there is disabled access to displays above the ground floor. Don’t miss out on the third floor display of photos and artifacts. Expect security arrangements identical to airports and get ready to take of shoes and belts etc. Ellis Island is stillb eing rehabbed after sustaining considerable damage for Hurrican Sandy. Go online to National parks Service Ellis Island site and check if there are notices about parts of the island or parts of the building being closed. Enjoy your visit, it is a very heartfelt experience.