Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ellis Island? Castle Garden? Which One? And When?

From August 1855 to 1924, millions of new arrivals to New York City went through an immigration processing center. The most famous New York immigration centers are Ellis Island and Castle Garden. The least famous is likely the Barge Office, which was used briefly just prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, and again following a fire on Ellis Island in 1897, which destroyed the buildings there. When the new buildings were completed in 1900 Ellis Island again became New York's immigration center.

Here's a simple timeline for when New York's immigrant processing centers were operating:

Prior to August 1, 1855 ... No central processing center
August 1, 1855 - April 18, 1890 ... Castle Garden
April 19, 1890 - December 31, 1891 ... Barge Office
January 1, 1892 - June 14, 1897 ... Ellis Island
June 15, 1897 - December 16, 1900 .... Barge Office
December 17, 1900 - 1924 .... Ellis Island

On July 1, 1924 a new law went into effect which stated that immigrants were to be inspected at US consular offices in the immigrant's home country before coming to the US. Ellis Island continued to be used as an alien detention center until November 1954. The first person to be processed at Ellis Island in 1892 was a 15-year-old Irish girl, Annie Moore. The last Ellis Island detainee was a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen.

Four Ellis Island ImmigrantsThe Barge Office was located on the southeastern tip of Manhattan. Castle Garden, now called Castle Clinton National Monument, was located on a small island just off the southwestern tip. Later landfill has attached the island to Manhattan. Castle Clinton National Monument serves as a visitor information center for New York's National Parks and Monuments. You can also purchase tickets there for ferry trips to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

The passenger ships to New York didn't actually land at Ellis Island -- they landed at Manhattan and the passengers were ferried over to the island for processing. Generally only steerage passengers went to Ellis Island for inspection. Most of the first and second class passengers were allowed to leave the ship soon after docking. All passengers, however, were (or should have been) listed on the ship manifest (or passenger list).

The Ellis Island fire of the night of June 14, 1897 also destroyed some Ellis Island administrative records and the New York immigration passenger lists. However, separate New York customs passenger lists were kept elsewhere (at the Customs House), and they have survived. So ship passenger lists for the early Ellis Island period (1892-June 1897) are available for research along with the rest of the New York passenger lists, beginning with 1820. These passenger records were later microfilmed by the National Archives (customs lists 1820-mid June, 1897), and the INS (immigration lists mid June, 1897-July 3, 1957), who gave the master copies to the National Archives. Over time many indexes and finding aids have been created to help locate individual immigrants on these lists. For information on finding New York passenger lists see...

New York Passenger Lists Quick Guide 1820-1957

For help with other ports...

Thanks to INS/USCIS historian, Marian Smith, for her help with this article.

Photograph from: Library of Congress - Selected Images of Ellis Island and Immigration, ca. 1880-1920.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those searching mid-nineteenth-century ship logs will likely soon discover that the handwriting was often little more than a scrawl, and can be very difficult to decipher. No doubt the poor soul whose job it was to record all the names and information these logs contain found it a tedious chore that didn't warrant his finest penmanship. After all, who would ever want to review these documents once they were filed away?

So if your searches of indexes fail to turn up the individual for whom you are searching, don't despair! That person may simply be hiding behind the tired, impatient handwriting of the agent that stymied the equally hard-pressed indexer. Obviously, this is a common issue with any index of handwritten records, but many of these ship logs are difficult to read even from good-quality microfilm images. Of course, searching under these conditions may mean resorting to visually scanning ship logs that cover weeks, months, or even years. So be sure to maintain a research log, and be willing to make the effort in stages. Your eyes will need the break!