Ellis Island and Castle Garden & Other Arrival Ports

Between 1880-1920, some 30,000,000 million immigrants arrived in the United States seeking a better life with greater economic opportunities. Many of these immigrants passed through Castle Garden and, then, from 1892 onwards, through Ellis Island, until it closed in 1954, after serving as a federal immigration center for 62 years.

Many beginner family historians hold the belief that their family came through Ellis Island only because they were European and realize that there were multiple entry points through which thousands first step foot in the United States. If lacking documentation, a newbie should consider that family might also have arrived through ports in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont,  Illinois, Michigan or upstate New York through Buffalo or Rochester crossing from Canada. Philadelphia and Baltimore were also busy ports of arrival.

In my own family, the family of one of my maternal great grandmothers settled in Calais, Maine. They were living there in the 1900 census and noted to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1880’s. I initially assumed that they probably arrived in Boston and then made their way north to Maine. However, when I found their 1884cemigration record filed in Copenhagen, they gave Canada as their destination. I now believe they arrived possibly in Halifax, Nova Scotia or elsewhere and then crossed the bridge from St. Stephen, New Brunswick to Calais. However, border crossing records don’t begin (exist) until about 1895. Since my 2x great grandmother died in Calais in 1890, those records won’t help me.

If you are searching for a record of your ancestor’s arrival, be open to the idea that the most direct arrival port might not be the one at which the family actually arrived. Tips for Determining Your Ancestor’s Probably Port of Arrival for Arrivals at U.S. Ports from Europe 1820-1950s might help you narrow down the actual point of entry.

Locating records for places other than New York can be a bit daunting. U.S. Ports of Arrival and Their Available Passenger Lists 1820-1957 lists the location and availability of many of these records. It also includes border crossing records available from Mexico and Canada into the U.S.

FamilySearch has Boston Passenger Lists 1891-1943, which is searchable by individual names. Olive Tree Genealogy has links to ships’ passenger lists and microfilm availability of records.

Having said all that, the first view of millions of immigrants was, indeed, New York City, and they were processed through Castle Garden or Ellis Island. Both Castle Garden and Ellis Island have websites that give a bit of history and offer free searchable databases.

Castle Garden is the lesser known of the two sites.

CastleGardenScreenShot
Castle Garden Website

The search box is a tab in the green toolbar area in the top left. I picked “Scherback” as a surname to search and here is one of the hits that came up:

CastleGardenSearch
“Auguste Scherback” Arrival

There doesn’t appear to be any link to actual images and extracted information is entered in the appropriate description box. I had one question about this site and emailed, but haven’t yet received an answer. Castle Garden closed its doors in 1890, but I noticed that many of the immigrants have arrival dates well into the 1900s. I have no idea where these people were actually processed, but if Castle Garden closed in 1890, they couldn’t have been processed there. I will update if and when I receive a reply.

Castle Garden is administered by The Battery Conservancy, a non-profit organization. They do have a link to contact them, as I did, but don’t appear to have social media contact sites, as on Facebook. the site is free to use, but they do have a donation button if you would like to contribute.

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website is a bit more robust, offering links to historical information about both the Statue herself and the Ellis Island experience. Searches can be done by a person’s name or by ship name.

Before I proceed, I have to admit something right upfront. The Foundation recently updated their website, maybe a year ago. I am not a fan of this new site, as I feel it is more difficult to search and is much less user friendly. I shared my frustrations with them via phone call and, basically, I told them that they fixed what wasn’t broken to begin with and it most definitely wasn’t an improvement.

Having said that, when you enter a name for a passenger search, I would suggest omitting the first name and be prepared to guess spelling variations in the surname because wild cards don’t work.

There are three choices in the right hand columns. The first, “Passenger Record” brings up the option to purchase a $30 certificate with your ancestor’s name, arrival date, etc.

The second choice is “Ship Image,” which again is an opportunity to purchase. However, I love looking at the ships my family sailed on and thinking that I much prefer modern cruise ships!

The third choice is actually the one most people want, the Ship Manifest.

This page is actually quite long and you need to scroll down to view the image itself and click to enlarge it.

The most annoying thing about the new website is that when you roll the cursor over the image, the image jumps around. That didn’t happen on the old site. Many have complained about this, but it doesn’t appear that anything is going to change anytime soon.

The last, super frustrating thing about this new site is that many Ship Manifest images are linked to the wrong page.

The old site didn’t have any of these problems. If you locate your ancestor, but can’t see the correct image, I would suggest emailing them to ask for help. If enough people contact them, maybe they will get the idea that this needs to be fixed.

Good luck with your search!

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