Ellis Island has wonderful displays about immigration to America going back to the land bridge; even though it itself was only used from 1892- 1924. Although it did not close until 1954, in those later years it was only used for exceptional cases, since screening was done at the other end. This came about due to the increased restrictions on immigration (see list at the end of this article), most importantly the National Origins Act of 1924. Click here for the history of Ellis Island and click here for the BBC series of articles “The Open Door policy and immigration to 1928.”
The displays at Ellis Island have photos and letters and recorded voices but what struck me the most was the fact that there were so many anti-immigrant demonstrations back in the 19th century. I learned about them from an exhibit on the 2nd floor and thus learned that that sort of sentiment is not new. First it was the Irish immigrants, then the Chinese, then the Southern Europeans, and so on. There was the No Nothing party and the Nativists in the mid 1800s (click here for an article on the Know Nothings). I don’t remember much of this from my high school American history classes. Was it even covered to the extent shown on those walls?
Another fact that I had not known is why the cheapest passage area that my Norwegian ancestors were in was called steerage. Here is that wall display from Ellis Island.
My Munson grandfather wrote my father a series of letters during WWII describing his family’s immigration from Norway. I think that these letters are a true family history treasure. Click here to read my transcription of them.
I am so grateful that I finally visited Ellis Island. My excuse was that I could not find the manifest for a specific ship online anywhere. I needed it for a client case and I had the arrival date and ship name so I was confident I could find it at Ellis Island. At the museum’s family history center I paid a small fee for 20 minutes with their computers. The search app is very good, so I found that passenger list. Now that I have it, maybe I can figure out how I might have found it online. A topic for another blog post!