ELLIS ISLAND RECORDS
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