The Ellis Island Immigrant Museum not only documents the arrival experience of immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries; it also houses the passenger records of ships that landed millions of people there.
Above is the main building on Ellis Island, as seen approaching the ferry slip. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum has received more than 20 million visitors since it opened in 1990.
Of all the historic sites in the United States, there is none with which so many living Americans may have a personal connection than Ellis Island.
It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island when it was the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection and detention station from 1892 until 1954.
Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, located in the main building of the former immigration station complex and devoted to telling the story of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through its doors, is one of New York’s most popular attractions.
Immigrants were questioned by inspectors in the Registry Room (or Great Hall) in the main Ellis Island building.
Visitors can take a 45-minute audio tour, available in nine languages, which invites them to relive the immigrant experience as if they were the “new arrival.” Additional tour options describe exhibits in more detail via in-depth interviews with historians, architects, and archaeologists. A special children’s tour is narrated by “Marty the Muskrat” and is offered in five languages.
Below is a summary of some of the features of the museum.
The American Family Immigration History Center: This interactive area is where you may find records of your family’s beginnings in the new world. Visitors who wish to make use of the center for research purposes are advised to gather as much information ahead of time as possible, including each passenger’s first and last names; approximate year of arrival; “ethnicity—which may include race, nationality, and religion—approximate age on arrival; ship of travel; port of departure; and whether the passenger traveled with other family members. Experienced volunteers can provide guidance so visitors can view manifests and ship images from their ancestor’s journey. At the Statute of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation website, individuals can search records and ship manifests for ancestors who may have passed through Ellis Island. Helpful information is also available about how to do genealogical research. To get started, go to http://www.ellisisland.org/Eiinfo/Press_AFIHC.asp.
Journeys: The Peopling of America Center, 1550-1890.This exhibit, now open in the historic Railroad Ticket Office, tells the story of immigration to the Americas before the Ellis Island era. Visitors move sequentially through the galleries devoted to separate themes: “Leaving,” “Making the Trip,” “Arrival,” “Struggle and Survival,” and “Building a Nation.” The exhibit examines persistent issues related to immigration such as tensions between newcomers and established residents.
The American Flag of Faces: This animated red, white, and blue flag is located in the museum’s main entrance hall and is filled with a montage of images submitted by individuals of their families, their ancestors, or themselves. Visitors can search by name to call up a photo, which will then dynamically appear in the center of the flag. To submit family photos, go to the American Flag of Faces at https://www.ellisisland.org/Eiinfo/American_Flag_launch.asp. ■
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