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When Did New York Immigration Start at Ellis Island?

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 14:15

Ellis Island is famous for being the United States’ front door for receiving immigrants—but did you know millions of people had already come to the U.S. by the time Ellis Island opened in 1892? This history of Ellis Island can help you better understand your immigrant ancestors’ arrivals and how to find the evidence in New York immigration records.

Why Was the Ellis Island Immigration Station Built?

During the first 100 years of U.S. history, the nation placed few restrictions on immigration. In fact, many newcomers were actually enticed to make America their home. The federal government offered incentives like fast-tracked citizenship for military service and the ability to purchase homestead land. U.S. employers actively recruited workers overseas. New arrivals wrote home to encourage their relatives to join them.

By the 1870s, enthusiasm for welcoming immigrants began to fade, especially when it came to poor immigrants. The federal government began restricting entry with legislation such as the Immigration Acts of 1875 and 1882.

Massive numbers of immigrants continued to arrive, however: about 600,000 per year.1 Most came through the Castle Garden Emigration Landing Depot at the Port of New York. Eventually, this facility and its management proved inadequate. The federal government stepped in to manage immigrant processing—but first it built an entirely new facility on Ellis Island.

When Did Ellis Island Open?

The Ellis Island Immigration Station opened on January 1, 1892. The main building was 400 feet long with square corner towers. Travelers stored their luggage on the first floor and underwent inspection on the second. Those successfully admitted could exchange currency and purchase rail tickets on the spot. Any who were detained stayed in the island’s dormitories or hospital.

Unfortunately, the main building burned to the ground 5 years later. For the next 3 years, officials processed immigrants at the Barge Office on the southeast tip of Manhattan. A new—fireproof—Ellis Island facility opened on December 17, 1900. For the next several years, Ellis Island welcomed unprecedented numbers of arrivals, peaking at 1.25 million in 1907 alone.

Laws passed in 1921 and 1924 dramatically restricted immigration to the United States. Additionally, prospective immigrants began applying at U.S. embassies in their home countries. Traffic at Ellis Island diminished. After 1924, the Ellis Island facility housed enemy aliens, war refugees, displaced persons, WWII servicemen, Coast Guard trainees, and imminent deportees. It closed in 1954, after more than 12 million immigrants passed through its doors.

Who Were the Immigrants?

U.S. immigrants during the Ellis Island era largely came from eastern, southern and central Europe. Some fled poverty. Others, such as eastern European Jews, fled religious persecution. All sought the relative safety and prosperity for which the country was known.

Only steerage (“economy-class”) passengers were personally sent to Ellis Island. Because they were poor, these passengers were closely scrutinized to be sure they were disease-free and financially able to care for themselves. Wealthier travelers received a brief inspection on the ship before being cleared to enter the country. Read more about Ellis Island passenger arrival lists.

A Ruthenian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1906

An Armenian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1926

A Syrian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1926

How to Find Your Ancestors’ Records

Wherever they were from—and whether they were rich or poor—you can learn more about immigrant ancestors in passenger arrival lists. You can search the entire history of Ellis Island passenger records for free at FamilySearch:

Here’s a great introduction to finding your immigrant ancestors on FamilySearch, and you can read about even more online immigration resources.

Do you have any stories about your ancestors that passed through Ellis Island? Please share! Post in the comments below or to social media with #familysearch.

  1. “U.S. Immigration History,” Immigration EIS, accessed July 5, 2018.


Castle Garden: Immigration Before Ellis Island

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 07:59

Did your immigrant ancestors land at Castle Garden or Ellis Island? Or did they arrive in New York before those facilities existed? The answer matters because it determines where you should look for them in records.

Don’t worry—New York passenger lists for all those eras are available for free on FamilySearch. This history of Castle Garden can help you understand which collections you should search and what your ancestors’ experience may have been like.

Immigration before 1855

Between 1790 and 1820, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people freely immigrated to the United States each year. They traveled on sailing ships that were often dangerously overcrowded and without adequate provision for passengers’ health and comfort. Starting in 1820, to ensure safer traveling conditions, ship captains had to provide passenger lists to U.S. customs officials.

This new rule didn’t protect immigrants at the docks in New York City, where many landed. After weeks on board, the exhausted, seasick travelers were often met by thieves and others who preyed on the arrivals’ ignorance about their new home. Many travelers were swindled, robbed, or herded toward undesirable jobs and accommodations.

History of Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot

In the 1850s, New York City and state officials pooled their efforts to create a more protective landing experience. Their solution was the country’s first immigration station: the Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden. At the time, Castle Garden was already a local landmark. Originally a military fort on an artificial island, the city had filled in land to connect it to Manhattan and turned the old fort into a theater and restaurant complex. (World-famous opera singer Jenny Lind performed there in 1850.

Castle Garden opened to immigrants in 1855 on the eve of a dramatic wave of European immigration. During the next 35 years, more than 8 million people passed through Castle Garden, especially from Germany and Ireland, and later from Italy and Eastern Europe. The place was a cultural cacophony. According to the New York Historical Society, Yiddish immigrants coined the term “Kesselgarden” from their experience here, meaning “any space that was noisy, chaotic, and confusing.”

Ellis Island Replaces Castle Garden

Some of this chaos can be chalked up to so many new arrivals crowding together from so many different countries. Additionally, the Immigration Act of 1882 imposed new immigrant screening requirements for which the facility was ill-equipped. Dishonest employees made things worse for immigrants, too. Castle Garden wasn’t always the safe haven it was meant to be.

In 1890, the federal government took over immigrant processing, citing corruption at Castle Garden as one reason. Castle Garden’s Emigrant Landing Depot closed. A temporary facility opened at the nearby Barge Office while the new Ellis Island Immigration Station was being built. When that facility opened in 1892, it ushered in an even more massive wave of migration.

Castle Garden and Ellis Island Immigration Records

Whether your ancestors arrived in New York before, during, or after the Castle Garden era, you can now search for them in free FamilySearch record collections:

New York Passenger Lists (Castle Garden) 1820–1891

This collection combines surviving passenger lists for those who arrived during the Castle Garden era with previous New York arrivals (back to 1820) and federal records kept before Ellis Island opened. You can search the name index for your ancestors or browse the record images.

New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) 1892–1924

Search for your immigrant ancestors in this index of names and record images for immigrants who passed through Ellis Island from its beginning until 1924.

New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists 1925–1957

These post-Ellis Island passenger lists include nearly 29 million indexed names of international arrivals in New York Harbor and at New York airports, and are linked to 5 million respective images of the original records.

Research Tips

When searching these collections, use whatever clues you already know about your immigrant ancestors to identify them on passenger lists. These tips may help:

  • Their year of arrival may appear on U.S. censuses. Overseas birthplaces may appear in obituaries, church records, or other records.
  • Information about their friends and family who came from the same place may provide additional clues.
  • Name spellings were generally inconsistent in the 1800s, and mistakes could have occurred with language or literacy barriers. Search with various name spellings, and consider results that seem possible, even if the spelling isn’t familiar to you.
  • Though most immigrants during this time period arrived in New York, not all did. Port of arrivals may be listed on your ancestors’ naturalization records. (This article on U.S. passenger lists may help direct you to records of other ports.)

Ready to get started? Begin searching for your ancestors:

When you find your Ellis Island ancestors, please share! We want to hear your stories. #familysearch


New Records on FamilySearch: End of June 2018

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 08:02

FamilySearch added 2.5 million searchable records to its England historical record collections, 1.5 million in Germany, 5.4 million in the Netherlands, 2.5 million from Find a Grave, and over 1 million in South Africa. Almost 1.5 million new browsable images can be found for Mexico. Additional indexed records and images were also added for Albania, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, BillionGraves, Peru, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uruguay, and in the United States in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C.

See the official announcements to learn more or to search these new free records:

New Historical Records on FamilySearch: Week of June 18, 2018

New Historical Records on FamilySearch: Week of July 2, 2018

Over 6 billion searchable historic records are available from around the world on Records are published with the help of thousands of volunteer indexers who transcribe digital copies of handwritten records to make them easily searchable online. To help make more historical records from the world’s archives available online, volunteer with FamilySearch Indexing.


Using Multiple Screens in the FamilySearch Family Tree App

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 08:34

If you’re a family history enthusiast who has hesitated to use the FamilySearch Family Tree mobile app because it doesn’t have the same features as the website, think again! App usage has increased 150% over the past year as the app has grown in capability.

One of the newest features on the FamilySearch Family Tree mobile app will allow you to have multiple screens open while you’re doing your research, much like using multiple tabs in an internet browser. This can allow you to be more effective as you navigate your family tree and compare information from searches with your ancestors’ profiles. This new feature is still being tested and should be fully functional in a week.

Enabling Multiple Screens in the Family Tree App

To use this new feature in your family history research, you first need to enable it in the Family Tree app. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Open the Family Tree app on your mobile phone or tablet.
  2. On an Apple device, on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, tap More, and from the list, select Settings. On an Android device, tap the menu icon in the upper left corner, tap the menu icon, and select Settings.
  3. For Apple devices, tap the button next to Enable Research Mode, or for Android devices, tap the button next to Enable Multiple Screens.

Once you’ve enabled this feature, you can get started using it to facilitate your research. Below are a few tips you should know about the Multiple Screens feature:

Using Multiple Screens in the Family Tree App (Apple devices)
  1. To open a new screen, in the lower right corner, tap the plus sign.
  2. The dots in the middle of the gray toolbar represent your open screens. You can quickly switch between screens by swiping left or right on the dots.
  3. To see all your open screens and close any you no longer need, in the lower left corner, open the Screen Manager by selecting the icon.
  4. Close an open screen by tapping the X in the corner.
  5. If you’re using the Family Tree app on a tablet, you’ll see an icon in the lower left corner that looks like a split screen. When you tap the icon, you will be able to split your screen to show two screens at once.
Using Multiple Screens in the Family Tree App (Android devices)
  1. To open your screens page, from your Family Tree screen, tap the multiple screens icon.
  2. To open a new screen, in the lower right corner, tap the green plus sign.
  3. To switch between open screens, return to the Screens page, and tap on the screen you want to use.
  4. To rename or delete a screen, in the corner of the screen, tap the 3 dots.

This feature is sure to make your on-the-go research a breeze, no matter your level of family history experience. Download the FamilySearch Family Tree app to try it out!


The Significance of Poppies in WWI

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 11:40

by Amie Tennant

Countries in the British Commonwealth observe Remembrance Day every November 11 by wearing Remembrance Day poppies and honoring those who fought in World War I. Learn how this tradition began, and research your own World War I ancestors.

What Is the Significance of World War I Remembrance Day Poppies?

World War I Remembrance Day Poppies are a symbol of respect and remembrance of those who died in World War I. The field poppy, hardy yet delicate, was a common part of the landscape on the Western Front during the Great War. After being heavily bombed and scarred, the land did not lend itself to growing much. In his famous poem, “In Flanders Fields,” Canadian-born John McCrae wrote about this pretty red flower that grew over the graves of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice and that beautified the devastated countryside.

Major John McCrae of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery had been stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in April 1915. In an area known as Flanders, Canadian troops made their first major appearance at the Second Battle of Ypres. Within 48 hours, over 6,000 Canadians died in Flanders fields. While this terrible scene unfolded, McCrae’s friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed by artillery fire. Lieutenant Helmer, like many others, was buried in a make-do grave in the surrounding fields of Flanders. McCrae later noticed the many graves scattered about were blooming with wild poppies. That scene inspired the writing of his famous poem, which was published in Punch magazine on December 8, 1915.

Though the poem was published in 1915 and World War I ended in November 1918, the wearing of the World War I Remembrance Day poppies was not initiated until 1921. Today, McCrae’s poem continues to hold significance during Remembrance Day (also known as Armistice Day) celebrations in Canada and Europe and Memorial and Veterans Day celebrations in the United States.

When Should You Wear World War I Remembrance Poppies?

No doubt, you have seen the pretty little flower adorning the lapels of royals and others on several occasions. There is some disagreement about when it is appropriate to wear Remembrance Day poppies. Some say you may start wearing the poppy pins on October 31. Others say that poppies are only appropriate to wear during the 11 days leading up to Remembrance Day.

There is also debate on which shoulder the poppy should be pinned, but as for me, I will do as Queen Elizabeth does and wear it on the left! Wearing the poppy pin over the left breast is to have it close to the heart.

Why Do World War I Remembrance Day Poppies Look Different?

Not all poppy pins look the same. Some have leaves, others do not. Some have four petals and others have two. So, why the discrepancy? Simple. The Royal British Legion produces the poppy pins for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland; Poppyscotland produces poppies for Scotland, and each have their own style for the poppy.

One thing all World War I Remembrance Day poppies have in common is their color. Remembrance poppies are red, not to signify blood, but because red is the natural color of field poppies. Typically, each poppy pin has a black center. Additionally, some may have a green stem or leaf added.

Most poppy pins of the past were made by veterans themselves; however, a private contractor now supplies many of the poppy pins. The sale of poppy pins for Remembrance and Armistice Day is used to raise money for veterans.

Share the Story of World War I Remembrance Day Poppies with Your Children

Want to incorporate a special activity with your World War I family history lesson? Pop over to Poppyscotland for coloring pages and activities to make learning and remembering fun.

Research Your World War I Ancestors

Search out your own World War I ancestors with tips shared in the blog post titled “Discover Your Ancestors in World War I Records.” FamilySearch offers an extensive collection of World War I records for you to use—United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, United Kingdom World War I Service Records and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Records, and several items for other countries, such as Australia.

Learn more about how to research and honor your World War I ancestors.


1 “Inspiration for the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae,” Accessed 28 May 2018.

2 “John McCrae,” Accessed May 28, 2018.

3 “The Story of the Poppy,” Accessed May 29, 2018.

4 Barbara Ramsay Orr. “Haunting and uplifting: a visit to Flanders Fields,” The Globe and Mail. Accessed May 29, 2018.

5 Accessed May 28, 2018.

6 “Second Battle of Ypres,” Encyclopedia Britannica. April 15, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2018.