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My Genealogy Hound

So all immigrants came thru Ellis Island, Right?

The common belief of the public is that all of our ancestors immigrated to the United States thru Ellis Island. While Ellis Island certainly played an important part in the history of American immigration, it was by no means the only point of entry with millions having arrived at other locations.

Previous to 1855, there simply was no offical point of entry nor were there formal regulations concerning immigration to the United States. Common ports of entry included all of the major seaports including Baltimore, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Franciso, and Savannah. Others immigrated across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Beyond reporting to customs and paying any customs fees due, a person was free to immigrate at will.

Previous to 1890, immigration policy was a matter that was regulated by the individual states rather than by the Federal Government. Many states sought immigrants as a means of growing the population of their states and actively recruited within other nations. This was particularly true of the mid-west to western states who offered the prospect of settling on inexpensive farm lands. The prospect of owning land was a dream come true for many of those coming from Western Europe.

In 1855, the City and State of New York jointly owned and operated Castle Garden which served as the first official American Immigration Station. This was strictly a city-state run facility with no federal jurisdiction. Castle Garden operated from August 1, 1855 until April 18, 1890. During this 35 year span of time, 11 million persons immigrated thru Castle Garden.

Barge Office, Battery Park, New York, Emigrant Landing, Immigration Center

(Vintage postcard view of "Emigrant Landing" Immigration Center, Barge Office, Battery Harbor, New York)

In 1890, The Federal Goverment took control of the immigration process and opened a temporary processing center at the Barge Office in Battery Park located at the southern tip of Manhattan. This location served as the first federal immigrant processing center from April 19, 1890 to December 31, 1891.

On January 1, 1892, the Ellis Island Immigration facility opened and then served as the official point of entry. The first immigrant was Annie Moore, aged 17 (commonly mis-reported as age 15), who with her two younger brothers traveled from County Cork, Ireland. This Ellis Island facility had a brief term of service as the entire Ellis Iland facility burned to the ground on June 14-15, 1897, just five and a half years after it had opened. Unfortunately, all of the immigration records that were stored on site were also destroyed.

At this point, the immigration process returned to Barge Office in Battery Park where it operated from June 15, 1897 until December 16, 1900.

Immigration Station, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, transfer steamers

(vintage postcard of Immigration Station, Ellis Island, New York Harbor with transfer steamers)

A new facility was constructed on Ellis Island and opened on December 17, 1900 and this continued as the primary immigration center until 1924. Beginning in 1924, most of the immigration process was conducted via the United States Embassies that were located in numerous nations. After 1924, only those who had problems with paperwork or other questions were sent to Ellis Island for processing. The final immigrant to be processed was in 1954 when the facility closed as an immigration processing center.

Today, the immigration facility on Ellis Island is open to the public. Further information concerning these facilities and the records they hold can be found on their respective websites:

New York Emigration and Immigration (FamilySearch.org)

Castle Garden (CastleGarden.org)

Castle Clinton (formerly Castle Garden) (National Park Service)

Ellis Island (National Park Service)

The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation

National Archives (immigration records)

View vintage postcards and historic photographs of Ellis Island Immigration Center: Ellis Island Vintage Postcards and Photographs

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