Who Went to Ellis Island?

Who Went to Ellis Island?

You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.

Q. Isn’t it true that only the steerage passengers landed on Ellis Island and others were let off in New York City? That is what we were told via video when visiting Ellis Island. Neither of my grandparents from Germany and England ever set foot on Ellis Island. That was in the 1920s. I believe they got off in Brooklyn. I’m not sure of the exact location but Ellis Island only took the passengers that weren’t being met by someone or had backing by someone. That is seldom publicized so most people think all immigrants landed on Ellis.

A: It is true that only steerage passengers were processed at Ellis Island. The first and second classes disembarked at the ocean liner’s dock, then the steerage class was taken by ferry to Ellis Island, but not just those who weren’t being met by someone or had financial backing. The entire steerage class was taken to Ellis Island.

Beginning about 1903, the passenger arrival lists began to include a supplemental section for those detained on Ellis Island. Many immigrants were detained for short periods of time at the port of arrival until relatives came to claim them. These lists of detainees, or Record of Detained Aliens, that have survived were microfilmed with their corresponding passenger lists at the end of the lists of arrivals. These contain the name of each detainee, the cause for the detention, and the date and time of discharge. The number of meals the detainee was fed during detention was also recorded. If the émigré was deported before being released from the immigrant receiving station, these records stated the reason and the date deported.

Be sure to check subsequent passenger lists and indexes for aliens who were deported but may have re-entered the country at a future date when they might have been able to pass inspection. Another common way for aliens to re-immigrate was to save enough money and re-enter as a first or second class passenger, who underwent less stringent exams aboard ship, and as mentioned, did not have to undergo the processing at Ellis Island. For more on the immigrant experience, visit the Ellis Island Web site at www.ellisisland.org/Immexp/index.asp?.

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