Ellis Island


Ellis Island

Written by Scott Messmore

As America is an immigrant nation, the story of how millions of people seeking a better life is told at Ellis Island in New York City.

A Better Life in America

Roughly 40 percent of all Americans owe their citizenship to a relative who walked on American shores for the first time at Ellis Island. From the 1890s to the 1950s, millions of immigrants, mainly from Europe, bet everything they had at Ellis Island. Located just north of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island now houses a museum and exhibits that tell the stories of some of the millions that were granted citizenship. For those who sailed from the Old World for a better life in the United States, entry into the country wasn't guaranteed. Immigration inspectors and doctors examined each potential new citizen before allowing them into America. Most of the new citizens couldn't speak any English, had little money and some had traveled to America on their own. Most newly arrived immigrants planted their roots in the large ethnic neighborhoods of New York City. Today, visitors to New York City can stop by Ellis Island and learn how their ancestors arrived in America.

Ellis Island Restoration

The U.S. Immigration Service closed Ellis Island in 1954 due to the declining number of immigrants entering the country in the New York City area. In 1965, Ellis Island became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, which is operated and maintained by the National Park Service. Ellis Island sat empty and idle for years, but after a six-year restoration Ellis Island was opened as a museum to teach Americans about the immigrant experience.

Ellis Island Museum

The Ellis Island Museum has beautifully restored rooms and hallways highlighting the island's 19th-Century architecture. Visitors can stand in the restored Great Hall and envision thousands of immigrants waiting in line, clutching their children and everything they own, as they file through inspection lines for acceptance or rejection. The three-story museum in the Main Building has 30 rooms full of maps, photographs, exhibits and artifacts about the Ellis Island immigrant experience. The Treasures From Home exhibit features items donated by family members of people who came through Ellis Island.

American Family Immigration History Center

The American Family Immigration History Center helps visitors find information about their relatives. Set to be opened in the spring of 2001, the American Family Immigration History Center is using passenger data taken directly from immigrant ship's registries. For a fee, visitors will be able to get information about their ancestors such as their arrival date, ship's name, country of birth and point of departure from the Old World. The Wall of Honor allows visitors to have their family's name inscribed on a wall for a $100 donation. The Wall of Honor is designed to commemorate the contributions of immigrants to the building of America.

Hours of Operation and Location

Ellis Island is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument located in New York Harbor and can be reached only by ferry. Both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both historic sites are closed on Christmas Day. The Circle Line Statue of Liberty Ferry sails from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, New York City. For sailing times and the cost of tickets, call the Circle Line at 212-269-5755.

For more information, call the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation at 212-883-1986.

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