Did your ancestors immigrate to America? If so, they may have been among those who passed through Ellis Island. Your ancestors may have been dressed like some of the people who were photographed after they arrived at Ellis Island.
On January 1, 1892, New York started using Ellis Island as a way station for immigrants. Between the years 1892 and 1954, more than 12 million immigrants used Ellis Island to enter the United States. The National Park Service estimates that over 40% of today’s American population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island.
According to the National Park Service, many immigrants arrived on steamships. Those ships were docked in New York Harbor. The first and second class passengers were able to disembark. The passengers who were in “steerage” were transferred to Ellis Island by ferries and barges.
After a person arrived at Ellis Island, he or she went to the immigration station. There, immigrants underwent a medical and legal inspection. Doctors and inspectors questioned and assessed each individual in a great examination hall called the Registry Room.
Each immigrant was asked 29 questions by inspectors, including full name, place of birth, occupation, destination and the amount of money they were carrying. For most immigrants, the entire process went rather quickly. It generally took less than two hours.
In the 1920’s, the officials at Ellis Island started turning away some immigrants. Some were refused because they came from certain countries (or certain ethnicities) especially those from Southern and Eastern Europe. People who had mental or physical disabilities were excluded, and so people who were illiterate. Children that arrived at Ellis Island without parents were not accepted.
While all this was going on, an amateur photographer named Augustus Sherman was working as the chief registry clerk. He worked there from 1892 through 1925. He took photographs of the people who passed through Ellis Island in their native dress.
The New York Public Library has put 89 of his photos into a Flickr account. Everyone is welcome to view the photos. A portion of the photos show men, women, and children from different parts of the world. Find a photo of someone who came from the same country as your ancestor, and you get a glimpse of what your ancestor may have dressed like when he or she arrived at Ellis Island.
Image by NIAID on Flickr.
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