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EL­LIS IS­LAND RECORDS

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The Lib­erty El­lis Foun­da­tion web­site ( https:// lib­er­tyel­l­is­foun­da­tion.org) may look, on the sur­face, to sim­ply be a glossy ad­ver­tis­ing tool en­cour­ag­ing you to visit the Statue of Lib­erty and El­lis Is­land if you’re lucky enough to be plan­ning a trip to New York. Yet it shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated, for it also holds a wealth of archival records and in­for­ma­tion for those of you who have an­ces­tors who em­i­grated to the United States and were pro­cessed at El­lis Is­land, and you can ac­cess rel­e­vant records here for free.

El­lis Is­land was the US’s busiest im­mi­gra­tion sta­tion from 1892 to 1954, pro­cess­ing over 12 mil­lion im­mi­grants over that time. For 35 years be­fore it opened, over eight mil­lion im­mi­grants ar­riv­ing in New York had been pro­cessed at the Cas­tle Gar­den Im­mi­gra­tion De­pot in Lower Man­hat­tan, by New York State of­fi­cials – but in 1890, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment took over re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­mi­gra­tion con­trol, and plans were made to build the first US fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion sta­tion on El­lis Is­land. On 1 Jan­uary 1892, the first, three- storey high, build­ing opened, and on that day alone, 700 mi­grants were pro­cessed. 450,000 peo­ple had been pro­cessed there within its first year. Un­for­tu­nately, in 1897, a fire de­stroyed the wooden struc­tures at El­lis Is­land, along with many im­mi­gra­tion records dat­ing back to 1855 (see www. mu­se­u­mof­fam­i­ly­his­tory.com/ mfh-el­li­sis­land- 06.htm for more in­for­ma­tion about the fire).

A new, fire­proof, sta­tion was built over the next four years, with im­mi­grants be­ing pro­cessed at the Barge Of­fice on the is­land in the mean­time. The new sta­tion was opened in De­cem­ber 1900, al­though some con­struc­tion con­tin­ued into 1901. Now, 1000 peo­ple could be fed in the sta­tion’s din­ing room – just as well, as the sta­tion saw a tidal wave of im­mi­grants flee­ing in­cip­i­ent war in the decade to come.

The process of be­ing checked at El­lis Is­land could take be­tween two to five hours, with all ar­rivals be­ing asked a se­ries of ques­tions, in­clud­ing ques­tions about their fi­nances, to check that they could sup­port them­selves in the States. Ar­rivals who had health prob­lems would be sent home or oth­er­wise sent to the is­land’s hos­pi­tal (it is es­ti­mated that some 3000 peo­ple died whilst be­ing held in the hos­pi­tal). Those lack­ing em­ploy­ment skills might be sent home for fear that they would be un­able to find work and sup­port them­selves; and oth­ers – around two per cent of ar­rivals – were sent home for other rea­sons, such as hav­ing a crim­i­nal his­tory, or a con­ta­gious dis­ease. Med­i­cal in­spec­tions could be in­tru­sive and hu­mil­i­at­ing, and at one point, eu­gen­ics in­flu­enced those peo­ple who were ad­mit­ted into the coun­try,

with those who had a men­tal ill­ness, learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, or so- called ‘moral de­fects’ such as be­ing gay, be­ing re­jected.

In 1921, the Im­mi­grant Quota Act was passed, and this ended mass im­mi­gra­tion to the States. El­lis Is­land moved from pro­cess­ing mi­grants to de­tain­ing and de­port­ing them. Dur­ing World War 2, ‘en­emy aliens’, in­clud­ing Ja­panese, Ger­man and Ital­ians, were in­terned on El­lis Is­land, with some 7000 be­ing held there in to­tal. Af­ter the war, the sit­u­a­tion re­turned to pre-war times, and by 1952, there were only 30 peo­ple de­tained. The sta­tion closed in Novem­ber 1954.

In 1897, a fire de­stroyed the wooden struc­tures, along with many im­mi­gra­tion records dat­ing back to 1855

A view of El­lis Is­land Many cou­ples recorded pre-nup­tial agree­ments within the Registry of Deeds, to pro­vide for the fu­ture se­cu­rity of the bride should a hus­band pre-de­cease her. Such deeds could be reg­is­tered by ei­ther fam­ily, mean­ing both sur­names should be searched in the Gran­tors In­dex. Mar­riage set­tle­ments

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