There were many possible ports of entry into the United States that our ancestors may have gone through in the 19th century. Most people first think of Ellis Island, however that did not serve as a New York entrance port until 1892. Prior to that date it was Castle Garden, also known as Castle Clinton, at the tip of Manhattan, New York City where millions of immigrants entered the country between 1855 and 1896. This area was traditional known as The Battery, a walled area manned with cannons to protect the city.
The records of those immigrants have been placed on a digital database and available online through The Battery Conservancy. The ship manifests, some 12 million records, are presently on the site, free to be accessed and represent approximate 8.2 million immigrants. Another 1,300,000 records are still be added.
An easy search box allows placement of an individual’s name, occupation, the country they last lived in and the a range of dates they may have come to Castle Garden. If a person of interest is located, just click on that name to reveal the full name, their occupation, age, who paid for their passage on the ship, the name of the ship, which port and country they departed from and the arrival date. The ship manifest can also provide some additional data; such as a relative remaining in their former hometown, where they are going to live in the U. S., their place of birth, if they have relatives in the U. S. and how much money they had with them. The majority of immigrants arriving originally came from England, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Russia, Scotland and Sweden.
The history of Castle Garden is very interesting. During the War of 1812 it was an important fortress in the defense of New York against the British. By 1824, Castle Garden was an entertainment area with a theater and restaurant. In 1828, balloonist, Eugene Robertson had a frightening time when his balloon accidentally was caught on the flag pole at Castle Garden. Samuel Morse demonstrated the use of his telegraph at Castle Garden in 1835. Early fire engines powered by stream were shown in 1841 at Castle Garden. The singer, Jenny Lind, in 1850 performed in the United States for the first time at Castle Garden. It was 1855 that Castle Garden was leased to the New York State Commissioners of Emigration. By August 1, 1855 the first official processing center for immigrants was established at Castle Garden.
For decades, Castle Garden becomes the port of entry for many of America's immigrants because of New York being the busiest seaport for ships crossing the Atlantic. There would be some 3,000 newly arrived immigrates at a time at Castle Garden which was staffed by 100 officials. Not until the opening of Ellis Island, does the flow of immigrants stop, yet there were still a few additional immigrants arriving at Castle Garden in 1892 and 1896. In 1896 the area was then converted into the New York Aquarium which remained as such until 1946. On June 13, 1897 a fire destroyed the administrative records for Castle Garden, however the passenger lists from the ship manifests had been stored in a different location and so spared. It would be more than half a century before the area would be named a National Historic Monument by the U. S. Congress. The Battery Conservancy was created in 1994 to help preserve the historic landmark of many of America's immigrant ancestors.