Ellis Island Immigration Center

Ellis Island, New York City

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Ellis Island, a small island in New York Harbor, served as the site of America's first federal immigration station. From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through the island. Today the approximately 100 million living descendants of these Ellis Island immigrants account for more than 40% of the country's population.

The Naming of Ellis Island

In the early 17th century, Ellis Island was no more than a two- to three-acre lump of land in the Hudson River, just south of Manhattan. The Mohegan Indigenous group who inhabited the nearby shores called the island Kioshk, or Gull Island. In 1628, Dutchman Michael Paauw acquired the island and renamed it Oyster Island for its rich oyster beds.

In 1664, the British took possession of the area from the Dutch and the island was once again known as Gull Island for a few years, before being renamed Gibbet Island, following the hanging there of several pirates (gibbet refers to a gallows structure). This name stuck for over 100 years, until Samuel Ellis purchased the little island on January 20, 1785, and gave it his name.

American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island

Declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, Ellis Island underwent a $162 million renovation in the 1980s and opened as a museum on September 10, 1990.

Researching Ellis Island Immigrants 1892–1924

The free Ellis Island Records database, provided online by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, allows you to search by name, year of arrival, year of birth, town or village of origin, and ship name for immigrants who entered the U.S. at Ellis Island or the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924, the peak years of immigration. Results from the database of more than 22 million records provide links to a transcribed record and a digitized copy of the original ship manifest.

The Ellis Island immigrant records, available both online and through kiosks at the Ellis Island American Family Immigration History Center, will provide you with the following type of information about your immigrant ancestor:

  • Given name
  • Surname
  • Gender
  • Age at arrival
  • Ethnicity / Nationality
  • Marital status
  • Last Residence
  • Date of arrival
  • Ship of travel
  • Port of origin

You can also research the history of the immigrant ships that arrived at Ellis Island, complete with photos.

If you believe your ancestor landed in New York between 1892 and 1924 and you can't find them in the Ellis Island database, then make sure you've exhausted all of your search options. Due to misspellings, transcription errors, and unexpected names or details, some immigrants may be difficult to locate.

Records of passengers that arrived at Ellis Island after 1924 aren't yet available in the Ellis Island database. These records are available on microfilm from the National Archives and your local Family History Center. Indexes exist for New York passenger lists from June 1897 to 1948.

Visiting Ellis Island

Each year, more than 3 million visitors from around the world walk through the Great Hall at Ellis Island. To reach the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum, take the Circle Line - Statue of Liberty Ferry from Battery Park in lower Manhattan or Liberty Park in New Jersey.

On Ellis Island, the Ellis Island Museum is located in the main immigration building, with three floors dedicated to the history of immigration and the important role Ellis Island played in American history. Don't miss the famous Wall of Honor or the 30-minute documentary film "Island of Hope, Island of Tears." Guided tours of the Ellis Island Museum are available.

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Powell, Kimberly. "Ellis Island Immigration Center." ThoughtCo, Feb. 10, 2021, thoughtco.com/ellis-island-immigration-center-1422289. Powell, Kimberly. (2021, February 10). Ellis Island Immigration Center. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ellis-island-immigration-center-1422289 Powell, Kimberly. "Ellis Island Immigration Center." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ellis-island-immigration-center-1422289 (accessed May 31, 2023).