Select Page

More than just immigration

It was not just a single building.

1Not just the great iconic main hall through which millions of immigrants streamed and that has become so associated in the public mind with the very name: Ellis Island.

Not just the place where Annie Moore became the first immigrant to pass through and process there.1

It wasn’t always an immigration center.

In fact, the facility that closed its doors, for the very last time, behind the very last person to be processed there, 61 years ago today, was no longer an immigration facility but a detention center.

And it wasn’t even always Ellis Island.

It began, of course, as “Kioshk” or Gull Island in the language of the local native tribes. It didn’t become Ellis Island until after Samuel Ellis became the owner in the 1770s and, by then, it had been called everything from Kioshk to Oyster to Dyre to Bucking to Anderson’s Island. And it developed “from a sandy island that barely rose above the high tide mark, into a hanging site for pirates, a harbor fort, ammunition and ordinance depot named Fort Gibson, and finally into an immigration station.”2

Except for that word “finally” there. Since finally it was really a detention center and not an immigration center at all.

Its timeline:

1630: Kioshk, or Gull Island, purchased by the Dutch.3

By 1776: The island was owned by Samuel Ellis, who ran a tavern there for sailors.4

1808: Ellis’ heirs sold the island to New York State, which sold it to the federal government.5

1808-1812: A military fort was built on the island with 20 guns.6

1812-1890: The fort continued to operate.7

1890: Congress appropriated money to build an immigration station at Ellis Island.8

1892: Ellis Island opened as an immigration station.9

1924: “The main function of Ellis Island changed from that of an immigrant processing station, to a center of the assembly, detention, and deportation of aliens who had entered the U.S. illegally or had violated the terms of admittance. The buildings at Ellis Island began to fall into disuse and disrepair.”10

1938-1945: During World War II, Ellis Island served as a detention center for alien enemies. “By 1946, approximately 7000 aliens and citizens, with German, Italian, and Japanese people comprising the largest groups, were detained at Ellis Island. … Ellis Island was also used as a hospital for returning wounded servicemen and by the United States Coast Guard, which trained about 60,000 servicemen there.”11

1950-1954: Foreign detainees were held at Ellis Island. The last one, a Norwegian seaman named Arne Peterssen, was released in November 1954.12

12 November 1954: Ellis Island was closed as an operating federal facility.13

1965: Ellis Island became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.14

1990: A partnership between the National Park Service and the Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation led to the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.15

Essentially all of the Ellis Island records are records of the federal government and will be found at the National Archives. Immigration records that aren’t still held by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) can be found primarily in Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

For records of family members who may have been involved with the Coast Guard at Ellis Island, try Record Group 26, Records of the United States Coast Guard.

And if any family members were caught up as enemy aliens, the records could be spread over a number of record groups. Start by reviewing the Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program at the Archives.gov website.

Ellis Island. So much more than just one building — and more than just an immigration station.


SOURCES

Image: National Park Service.

  1. See Megan Smolenyak, “Annie Moore’s Story,” Honoring our Ancestors (http://www.honoringourancestors.com/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  2. “The Origin of the Island,” Ellis Island History, Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  3. Ellis Island – A Brief History of Events,” Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ellis Island – A Brief History of Events,” Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  13. Ellis Island closes,” This Day in History (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  14. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/ : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  15. Ibid.
Print Friendly