When I think of immigrants coming to this country the first thing that comes to mind is Ells Island. Not all people coming to America came through Ellis Island, but a large percentage did. Luckily for those of us that do have family that came to this immigration station the records have been preserved.
In March of this year, “American Profile” did an article “Return to Ellis Island; Millions of Americans can Trace Their Roots to the Immigration Station” story by Marti Attoun, Contributing Editor.
Here are a few excerpts.
“Al Jolson, Irving Berlin, Chef Boyardd, Knute Rockne, to name just a few, came through here, “says National Park Service ranger Jamie Keller, 35, as he stands in the vaulted Registry Room where immigration inspectors once questioned 5,000 or ore new arrivals each day.
“Think of all the immigrants brought” Keller says. “They gave us pizza and hot dogs. They built skyscrapers. They built America.” About 40 percent of Americans have at least one ancestor who came through Ellis Island says Stephen Briganti, 67, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
First-class and second-class passengers were inspected aboard ship, but third-class and steerage passengers were inspected in the main building on Ellis Island. Doctors observed new arrivals for signs of labored breathing, limping and other obvious ailments, and marked in chalk on their sleeves-L for lameness or X for mental illness-if further medical examination was needed. They turned up immigrants’ eyelids with a buttonhook to check for trachoma, a highly contagious eye disease. “Officials wanted you coming over here ready, willing and able to work,” Keller says.
With help from interpreters, inspectors asked each immigrant a series of questions: Occupation? Who is meeting you? Who paid your passage? Have you ever been in prison? About 2 percent of immigrants were rejected and returned to their homeland for medical or legal reasons, which gave one nickname to Ellis Island the “Island of Hope and Tears”.
Today, Americans visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to experience where their ancestors first set foot on American soil. Not only can they trace the steps of their grandparents and great-grandparents, but they also can search for their names on the original ships’ manifests. Information on more than 25 million immigrants, who arrived between 1892 and 1924, and the 2, 500 ships that transported them are available at the museum’s American Family Immigration History Center and online at www.ellisisland.org.
Please visit the website for more information on the immigrants and ship records.
Items available at the Sweetwater County Library are:
Forgotten Ellis Island (DVD) PBS Home Video
The Extraordinary Story of America’s Immigrant Hospital
Ellis Island (VHS) by Lisa Bourgoujian
Ellis Island: a pictorial history by Barbara Benton