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           August, 2006

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor

          Newsletter Archives   |  E-mail                    

  Immigration and Ellis Island
— by Carol Sanderson

        None of my family came through Ellis Island. They were all here before that time. Why do I say this? I guess I have always been intrigued by that as an immigration port...more so than any other has. I am not an authority on it but I recently read an article by someone whom I consider to be that. An article by him caught my eye and I want to review it for you.

        John Coletta, author, speaker, and teacher, wrote this. I have heard him speak more than once and he is excellent. He wrote an article called "Ellis Island: What's Myth, What's Reality?" in the July/August 2003 issue of Family Chronicle. If some of you read it, all of us néed to review things on occasion.

        I have become interested in ports of entry as I am trying to help a friend find more of his ancestors and learn more about them. I will help with some of the research but most of all I want to show him the tools that are out there so he can work on his own. His grandparents were the immigrants and his family settled somewhere other than around New York City. I bet that is true of many people.

        He has more complete information on the family than I do, so I was not too surprised one night to get a call from him. In an excited voice, he told me he had found his paternal grandparents entrance to this country through Ellis Island. He had the name of the ship, a picture of it and all the other good stuff. One thing, that entry showed they had a five or six year old daughter with them who was listed as a citizen of this country. In his notes, which he sent me, was "How could that be?" Obviously, they had been here before as the child was born here. From her birth date on a census record, their entry had to have been before spring of 1890.

        Our country did not have immigration stations before 3 August 1855. After the Revolutionary War, the people concerned with immigration were the individual states. However, in 1819 Congress passed a law requiring captains of ships arriving from foreign ports to submit a manifest or list of all passengers aboard these ships to the Collector of Customs at the port of arrival. This took effect on 1 January 1820. Immigrants arrived at more than 100 ports of entry. We must also remember that sometimes our ancestors entered from Canada and Mexico via land rather than on a ship. Shipping companies soon realized that carrying emigrants to this country was very profitable. They became greedy and traveling conditions worsened, Our government stepped in with laws whose purpose was to control the conditions and make things easier for those coming here.

        Philadelphia had been one of the busiest ports of entry. With the opening of the Erie Canal in New York State, the port of New York quickly took that position. New York State leased from the city of New York, an area at the lower end of Manhattan called Castle Garden and on 3 August 1855, it opened. The purpose was to help health officials in trying to prevent contagious disease from entering the country. It was hoped that a receiving station would help prevent some of the horrors of fraud, robbery, deceit, and even kidnapping from happening to the immigrants the minute they stepped ashore. Help was there for the immigrants in money exchange, in finding temporary lodging, and in finding transportation. Congress kept passing laws concerning immigration to this country. The Federal government worked together with the states for a number of years. This was a contentious situation. That all changed on 18 April 1890. On that day the US Secretary of Treasury terminated the contract his department held with the Board of Commissioners of Emigration of the State of New York. His agency was going to take over full control. New York did not like that and blocked the US from using Castle Garden. So as Mr. Coletta says, "If your ancestors arrived at the port of New York between 19 April 1890 and 31 December 1891, they were not processed at Castle Garden or Ellis Island."

        Where to process the immigrants coming in at this port? The federal government made a temporary processing station in a federal building, the old Barge Office; they had on the southeastern tip of Manhattan. It opened 19 April 1890 and stayed in operation until 31 December 1891. Over 500,000 people passed through there. During that span of time, your immigrant ancestor would have been processed there, if they entered through the port of New York. In 1891, the US government assumed control of processing immigrants at all of the ports of entry to this country. About the same time, the Department of Treasury made a separate bureau with its own head to handle immigration affairs.

        Ellis Island opened 1 January 1892, so before then if your ancestors arrived at the port of New York they were processed somewhere else as before then it did not exist as a processing station. The US and others called it a modern marvel . It was three stories high and constructed entirely of wood with many windows to make it light and airy.

        Mr. Colleta's article goes on to explain away some of the stories we have heard about names being changed and that passenger lists were destroyed in a fire.

        On the night of 14 June 1897, fire broke out in the Ellis Island building and it burned to the ground. Where to go now? The Commissioner of Immigration decided that they should use the old Barge Office again. It was put back in use and served as a processing station until the rebuilt Ellis Island building opened. The dates for the Barge Office this time were from 15 June 1897 to 16 December 1900. So once more, if your ancestors arrived between these dates they did not go through Ellis Island.

        The new building on Ellis Island was constructed of steel, brick, and concrete which made it fireproof. This building opened 17 December 1900. It was a smaller building than the one that burned and was added onto many times. In 1924, an Immigration Act required visas. This meant that prospective immigrants would be interviewed and inspected at US embassies. Thus, Ellis Island lost its reason for being and was used after that as a detention and deportation center.

        Did you know that some immigrants did not go through any of the above centers for processing? These were the ones who could and did afford to travel in the cabin class of the ships rather than steerage. A medical team met the ship as it entered the harbor and processed these people so that when the ship docked all they had to do was walk off.

        Remember, too, that before 1855 there was no immigration processing. If you remember these dates, perhaps you will find the ancestors whom you thought slipped through the cracks.

        Mr. Coletta's article is one I would recommend to everyone.

  Newspapers and Genealogy
— by Charles Hansen

        Last month I wrote about a presentation by Leland Meitzler given at our annual Spring Conference. This month I want to tell you about another one that he did. This was his second presentation and is about the American newspapers.

        This second session was about American Newspapers and Their Genealogical Value. The first regularly published newspaper: Boston News Letter in 1704. It was 4 pages long and contained international and literary matter, and continued like that until the mid 1800s. Three things changed newspapers, invention of the power printing press, the railroads, and the Civil War.

        What can you find in local newspapers? Gossip columns, social history from articles and ads, etc., public announcements, immigration, migration and shipping, runaway slaves and indentured servants, executions and punishments may be found in newspapers. One day, when I was looking for an obit in the newspaper, I stopped the microfilm reader and the headline on the page I stopped said Ella Murphy to wed Pete Peterson. Ella and Pete were my mom and dad's maid of honor and best man for my parents wedding. I read the article and made a copy. Just below this article was some local gossip, and the second item said, "Casey's host party at Liberty Lake." There was my mom, my grandmother and my father listedamong the guests at the party. My mom had worked for Mr. Casey at his store in Hillyard, and I guess he asked her to his lake cabin. But to find my dad there also was a real surprise as this was before they got married. So that, perhaps, is why my grandmother was there to act as a chaperone.

        Most of the time I spend with old newspapers is getting copies of obits, death notices, funeral notices, and articles about death or funerals. I never even checked the Cards of Thanks notices, but did check the hotel registration articles. The newspapers also have legal notices and sometimes articles on a will or probates. Leland says to be sure to check for all the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and the children.

        For births, look for vital records columns, or maybe in the gossip column. There may even be a hospital report. Also, for marriages look for engagement announcements, like Ella and Pete's above. Check the social section of the paper for marriage reports. These would tell who was married, who attended and where they went on the honeymoon.

        A couple of more places to check are anniversary announcements, and historical columns, 100 years ago, 75 years ago, etc. In this last tip, he said to check is the one-hundredth birthday announcements. My dad's will appear August 8, 2006 in our local paper, and we have sent a picture to Willard Scott at NBC Today Show.

        Newspapers have always been a great source for genealogists. However, few have been indexed, so finding your ancestors without a date is like finding a néedle in a haystack. That is changing rapidly as more and more newspapers are being posted on-line with every name search capabilities.

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