Coming to America: The Legacy of Castle Garden and Ellis Island

The next article was contributed by James L. Tanner, veteran genealogist and researcher. 

Between the years of 1855 and 1954, it’s estimated that as many as 20 million or extra immigrants entered the USA and disembarked on the immigrant processing stations at Fort Backyard and Ellis Island. Crusing by the Statue of Liberty grew to become a part of their immigration expertise in 1886 when the statue was devoted. 

Castle Garden (public domain)

Fort Backyard (public area)

The unique Fort Backyard constructing was a army fort constructed between 1808 and 1811. It was first named the West Battery and generally additionally known as the Southwest Battery. By 1815, West Battery was renamed Fort Clinton, its present official identify, in honor of New York Metropolis Mayor DeWitt Clinton, who finally grew to become Governor of New York. The land space the place the Fort Backyard constructing is positioned is known as “The Battery.” Fort Backyard or Fort Clinton grew to become the primary immigrant entry level into the USA from August 3, 1855, to April 18, 1890. Nevertheless, the Ellis Island facility was not opened till 1892 and for these two years, the immigrants have been processed by the U.S. Barge Workplace on the U.S. Customs Barge anchored off The Battery. What’s left of the unique constructing is now a part of Fort Clinton Nationwide Monument and is run by the Nationwide Park Service. The unique immigration data are preserved by the USA Nationwide Archives and Data Administration. 

First Ellis Island Immigrant Station, built in 1892 and destroyed 1897 (public domain)

First Ellis Island Immigrant Station, in-built 1892 and destroyed 1897 (public area)

Building started on the immigration station on Ellis Island in 1890 and the station opened on January 1, 1892. The primary immigrant processed by the newly opened station was Annie Moore, a 17-year-old lady from Cork, Eire. The unique constructing was destroyed by a hearth on June 15, 1897. Over 1.5 million data have been misplaced. 

Second Ellis Island Immigration Station (opened 1900) as seen in 1905 (public domain)

Second Ellis Island Immigration Station (opened 1900) as seen in 1905 (public area)

Instantly after the hearth, development started on the brand new constructing, which opened on January 1, 1900. It processed 2,251 immigrants on the primary day and almost 450,000 the primary 12 months. Among the earliest data have been misplaced within the fireplace that destroyed the primary Ellis Island constructing in addition to about 1.5 million data of immigrants from January 1, 1892 to June 15, 1897, however tens of millions of the surviving immigration data are a treasure trove of data for genealogical analysis. 

Many genealogical researchers have household strains that finish with an immigrant. Studying about easy methods to discover immigration data is an effective first step to discovering your immigrant ancestors.

Fundamental immigrant analysis terminology

There are a number of vital phrases that try to be acquainted with earlier than starting your search. Beneath is a brief checklist of these phrases. For a extra in depth checklist of immigration phrases, see:  Glossary of Frequent Authorized Phrases

Immigrant: A normal time period that refers to individuals who enter a rustic for the aim of remaining within the nation for an prolonged interval. 

Emigration: Leaving one’s native nation to settle in one other. 

Immigration: The worldwide motion of individuals to a vacation spot nation of which they don’t seem to be natives or the place they don’t possess citizenship to settle as everlasting residents or naturalized residents.

Naturalization: The method by which a foreign-born particular person turns into a citizen of the USA. 

Ship passenger checklist: An inventory made by the transport firm with details about the voyage, together with the vessel and grasp’s names, port of embarkation and arrival, and the date of arrival. Passenger info required identify, age, intercourse, occupation, nation of origin, vacation spot, and circumstances of demise through the voyage, when relevant. This info was required subsequent to the passage of a regulation in the USA known as the Steering Act of 1819

Ship manifest: A manifest, customs manifest, or cargo doc is a doc itemizing the cargo, passengers, and crew of a ship. A manifest could include the identical or totally different info discovered on a passenger checklist. 

Discovering immigration data

The primary normal immigration legal guidelines in the USA have been handed in 1882, and immigration legal guidelines grew to become an increasing number of restrictive through the 1900s. Consequently, researching immigrants will get tougher as you return in time. Nevertheless, data of passengers arriving in New York and elsewhere started a lot earlier, at the same time as early because the 1500s. These data are generically generally known as “passenger arrival data” and so they can present info for genealogical analysis that features the next:

  • An individual’s nationality and place of origin
  • Ship identify and date of entry to the USA
  • Age, top, eye, and hair colour
  • Career
  • Place of final residence
  • Identify and tackle of kinfolk they’re becoming a member of within the U.S.
  • Sum of money they’re carrying, and so on.

The US Nationwide Archives has a specialised, searchable database with 604,596 individuals listed who arrived within the Port of New York, from 1846–1851. See the Entry to Archival Databases (AAD). This database has 604,596 data in sections devoted to immigrants who recognized themselves as from Germany or a “German” state, metropolis, or area, Russia, Italy, and Eire. The Nationwide Archives additionally has a number of internet pages devoted to immigration data. See Immigration Data

The Fort Backyard web site has a free searchable database that comprises entries for 10 million immigrants from 1830 by 1892, the 12 months Ellis Island opened. Searchable by passenger identify, the database gives info together with age, intercourse, literacy, occupation, nation of origin, port of embarkation, date of arrival into New York, and ship identify. See

As well as, Ellis Island has an internet searchable database that was created by the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Basis and comprises details about 22.5 million arrivals to New York between 1892–1924. Registration is required, however free, and you’ll view scanned photos of precise passenger manifests. You may as well buy copies of the pictures by the location. See

Researching an immigrant ancestor on MyHeritage

Most of the massive, on-line family tree web sites have databases that include immigrant and or passenger checklist info. MyHeritage has an enormous assortment containing tens of millions of data about immigration and journey. To entry these data straight, you click on on the Analysis tab positioned on the high of the pages and choose the Assortment Catalog. 

Then, on the left-hand aspect of the display screen, select “Immigration and journey,” and you will notice the checklist of what’s at present out there. On the time this text was written, there have been 57 collections with over 181 million data. 

The primary assortment listed is Ellis Island and Different New York Passenger lists, 1820-1957, and contains people who arrived on the three well-known immigrant processing stations: Fort Backyard (1855-1890), the Barge Workplace (1890-1892), and Ellis Island (1892-1957). 

How can we go about discovering an immigrant ancestor utilizing this beneficial assortment?

It might appear apparent to only search for the immigrant’s identify within the assortment, however actuality isn’t so simple as it might sound. The final rule for locating details about an immigrant is to begin within the nation of arrival.

Let’s suppose that you’re on the lookout for your ancestor named Thomas O’Riley who you consider got here from Eire someday within the 1800s. You resolve to search for him within the MyHeritage database. When you merely enter his identify, the search engine will pull up 13,771 outcomes:

In case your ancestor’s identify is exclusive, this will not be a problem, however most often, you’ll must have extra particulars to slim down the outcomes and search efficiently. 

Listed here are all of the fields that MyHeritage suggests to your search: 

You’ll need to seek out among the primary particulars advised right here earlier than you may have sufficient info to look the passenger lists. 

In the USA, the Federal Inhabitants Census data within the years 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 present the 12 months of immigration and whether or not the individual was a naturalized citizen. This makes a census search a precedence for these immigrants who lived in the USA throughout these years. Nevertheless, even in the event you add within the info for an immigrant from a census document, you should still have a tough time discovering your immigrant on the passenger lists.

An instance

Considered one of my spouse’s ancestors, Amanda Matilda Corridor Wessman, got here from Sweden to the USA in 1893. Right here she is within the U.S. Census document for 1920 in Salt Lake Metropolis, Utah. 

From this entry, we’ve got a reputation, a spot of residence, an approximate 12 months of beginning and birthplace, an arrival 12 months, and that she continues to be an alien or not a naturalized citizen. Now we are able to do a search within the MyHeritage Assortment for Ellis Island and Different New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. I’m additionally going to guess that she sailed from England to the USA, as a result of the most typical port for immigrants from Scandinavia was by Liverpool, England. If I didn’t know that, I might depart the areas clean. 

Right here is the entry which occurs to be the primary one which got here up from the search. 

My guess concerning the port of departure was right. Now that we’ve got the ship manifest or passenger checklist, we are able to see that the census document was mistaken. The immigration date was in 1893 — arrival on October 24, 1893, to be precise. We will additionally see the identify of the ship, the Alaska. She was touring with considered one of her sons, Joseph. This helps to verify that we’ve got the proper individual. 

It will be useful if we had sufficient info to seek out all our immigrants, however notice that MyHeritage discovered solely 3 different data that got here near this entry. The decisive consider eliminating the opposite three entries was having an estimated beginning date and place. 

Listed here are the 4 entries and the ultimate search phrases I used to seek for Amanda Matilda Corridor Wessman.

We will now use this identical info to search for different members of the family who might also have immigrated about the identical time. Which will require a seek for United States Federal Census data from extra years, or discovering different data concerning the household. An additional normal search on MyHeritage reveals her husband’s identify was Johan Bengtsson Wessman, born in 1840 in Sweden. We will attempt to discover his immigration document from the identical assortment on the MyHeritage web site. Right here is the MyHeritage response passenger checklist for Johan Westman with a vacation spot of Utah. That is most certainly the passenger checklist for Amanda’s husband. 

Doing genealogical analysis is a course of and it does take a while and research to be taught the fundamentals, particularly for doing analysis for immigrants. Fortuitously for these doing analysis in the USA, MyHeritage and different web sites have substantial collections of passenger lists and different helpful matters that may help your analysis. Each document you discover and every bit of added info will assist to seek out much more info. 

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