December 17th, 2012

The Ongoing Importance of Ellis Island

Ellis Island officials estimate that approximately one in three Americans have ancestors who immigrated through the Ellis Islandsystem. There are however over two hundred million immigrants who arrived prior to and after Ellis island began operating or finally closed its doors. Because of this the Ellis Island Foundation is busily transforming itself into a more comprehensive National Museum of Immigration. Ellis Island falls under the authority of the National Park Service who is intent on publishing the fuller story of American immigration. The important family history research facility equips visitors with the latest multimedia and computer technology, printed matter, and professional help with investigating immigration histories and genealogical exploration and documentation.

The Foundation has dedicated twenty million dollars to the development of the museum, much of which is already open to the general public and those searching ancestors.  Over twenty thousand square feet of former office space is being utilized to house the new museum and its resources which tell the story of immigration intoAmerica dating from the sixteenth century to present day. The first phase opened in the fall of 2011, and covers the period from 1550 to the time whenEllis Island began its operation as an immigration center. The next phase will focus on the period beginning in 1924, and will hopefully open towards the end of 2012. This era represents a time when strict limitations were placed on foreign entry intoAmerica, and during this periodEllis Island served mainly as a detention center, especially during the immediate period after the Second World War. At that time the official opening of the museum will be celebrated with a formal ceremony.

What You’ll Find at the National Museum of Immigration

The exhibition space of the main building has been improved to include a digital database of immigrant photographs, searchable by name, which can be used to identify immigrant ancestors. The images are housed in an animated flag – red, white and blue – and as such the collection is entitled the Flag of Faces. The American Immigrant Wall of Honor is another popular attraction of the museum. Overlooking the New York Skyline and the statue if Liberty, it contains over seven hundred thousand names of immigrants, and as such is the longest wall of names in the world. The Family Immigration Center is designed specifically with genealogists in mind, and is where you can access the valuable passenger lists in which you might find your ancestor.

In the more than three decades thatEllis Islandoperated as an immigration center, around twelve million people passed through its gates. The arrival records of over twenty five million individuals have been digitized and are searchable online, making it an important genealogy resource that should never be taken for granted. The National Museum of Immigration is especially appreciated, as at some point during genealogical research one needs to understand a bit about the historical background of their ancestors. The museum makes this especially possible, and does so with aplomb and professionalism.

A Note on Searching Ellis Island Records Online

When you are searching passenger records at Ellis Islandthe following general concepts will help you to become familiar with using the index. If you understand how the index was created, it will be easier for you to search it. In the case of the Ellis Islandindex, records were transcribed from microfilm into the electronic database. This was all done by volunteers, and like any transcription process is prone to human error. The Ellis Island Foundation however has taken great steps to ensure the accuracy of their digital index. Keep in mind that misspelling may have also occurred in the original document, and even if spotted by a transcriber, instructions from the foundation were to preserve the integrity of the original document. Therefore, a misspelling on an original would be entered in the database the same way. Keep an eye out for misspellings such as Jhon for John or Willaim for William. They do occur, and the job of spotting such clues is left to individual researchers.