Ellis Island

Privacy Level: Open (White)

Location: Upper New York Baymap
Surnames/tags: United States New York Immigration
This page has been accessed 820 times.

The island known to most of the world, called Ellis Island had a history before the area was ever called that.

As long as the land has been here, the island has been too. The Mohegan tribe that inhabitted the area, called it "Kiosh" which means Gull Island. It got this name because of the constant bird population.

Many generations, when the Dutch colonists called the area home, it was called Oyster Island. This was due to the area being rich in oyster beds and plentiful shad.

The British took over and changed it back to Gull Island but it changed quickly. Gibbet Island was given as a nickname to the island, because of a post of gibbet that served to display deceased bodies of pirates and mutineers that had been hanged. Gibbet is another word for gallows.

At the time that Samuel Ellis bought it, there was barely more than a sandy lot of 3 acres that remained just slightly higher than high tide. It was turned into a picnic spot and then he tried to sell it. No one wanted to buy it.

When he passed away, it went to family. The family did not want it so, New York State bought the island. A year later, the United States bought it from NY state for the huge price at that time of 10,000.00 dollars, which today equates to $201,747.62.

It took a while but eventually it had so much soil, rocks and other debris dumped there that it was no longer 3 acres. It had grown to 27 1/2 acres.

The U.S. government spent the next 3 to 4 years building defences on the islands in the area. During the time of the War of 1812, Fort Gibson was built on the island.

During the Civil war it was used by the Union Army to hold munitions.

From 1855 to 1890, New York had their immigration station on the southern end of Manhattan. This was because each state had to regulate immigration themselves. New York's was named Castle Garden and about 8 million people came to the U.S. through that point. Most were from Northern and Western Europe. Castle Garden closed April 18, 1890 when the United States government took over the responsibility. Castle Garden was just not large enough to handle the flow of immigrants.

William Alciphron Boring and Edward Lippincott Tilton were the architects to build it. The style used was Renaissance Revival.

When Ellis Island, made of Georgia Pine, became the immigration station in 1892, the first person to come through was a 17 year old Irish girl. Her name was Annie Moore and she came on the ship with her brothers, who were 11 and 7. They were headed to reunite with family and had no idea they would be the first few of more than 12 million people to enter the United States through Ellis Island.

When Annie came through, there was a United States Treasury official and a chaplin to welcome her. She received an award of a 10 dollar gold piece, because it was such an occasion. A statue of her and her brothers now stands at the Immigration Museum. The first ship, which she was on, to arrive was the steamship Nevada. She and her brothers were part of 124 passengers from Europe on that ship.

Five years later, for no known reason, fire struck the immigration center. The station was gone as well as the Federal and State immigration records dating back to 1855, as the pine buildings did not protect against the fire. Luckily no lives were lost but it was a huge hit to anything needing the records, including genealogy.

Another station was ordered and the ruling was that it had to be fireproof. The day the new building was opened, 2,251 immigrants came through.

If you were wealthy enough to purchase first or second class passage, you would not have to go through the inspection process at Ellis Island. It was figured that if you could afford that fare, you would not likely be a medical or legal issue to America. Upon arriving in New York, (at the Hudson or East River piers) first and second class passengers would pass straight through at the piers and enter the U.S.

If you were third class or steerage, you would be taken by barge or ferry to the island where everyone would have to be inspected. This inspection would include being paraded in front of a series of medical officers to get physical inspections.

The first step was the luggage storeroom. You would have to leave the heavy luggage in this room which was on the ground floor. You would be given a luggage ticket and be made aware to keep hold of it. You would not get your stuff back if you did not have your ticket.

Next you would be moved into a metal pen with the others from your ship. This is where you were told what was going to happen while you were here. Many however did not understand the language and if there were no translators who could speak their language, they would understandably become scared and very confused.

In good weather it would be done outside which made it faster. This usually took just about a minute so it was quick. It was painful though too. One of the tests was using a metal hook to determine if you had an infectious eye disease.

For the legal part, they would have to answer 29 questions on a sheet of paper. This was done in the registry room. It was filled with high desks and officials sat behind them. You would then be sat in front of them to go over the questions. If it were a family, the husband would be sitting in the chair and his family would be standing around him. Below is the list of questions:

U.S.Department of Labor Immigration Service


1. Number on list.

2. Name in Full

3. Age

4. Sex

5. Married / Single

6. Occupation

7. Able to Read / Write

8. Nationality

9. Race

10. Last Residence

11. Name & Address of relative in native country

12. Final Destination

13. No. on list

14. Whether having a ticket to final destination

15. By whom was passage paid?

16. Whether in possession of $50.

17. Whether ever in U.S. before.

18. Whether going to join relative; if so, list name and address

19. Ever in prison, almshouse, institution for care of insane etc.

20. Whether a Polygamist.

21. Whether an Anarchist

22. Whether coming with an offer, promise, or agreement of labor

23. Condition of Health

24. Deformed or crippled

25. Height

26. Complexion

27. Color of eyes/hair

28. Identifying marks

29. Place of Birth Country/ City/Town

Hint: The most important questions were # 2, 6, 15, 16, and 22

Assuming you passed all of the tests and rooms, you would get your landing card and be welcomed into the United States. You were not a citizen yet as you would have to take a test at a later date. This was just a sorting center. You were however, allowed to continue on your travels.

You would then be led into the Kissing Post. This is the area where you would meet friends and family that were waiting for you. Exchanging money, buying tickets to continue traveling, and claiming your luggage would all be done here. To top it off you may be given a lunch box to take with you. You were not allowed to go backward for any reason though, or else you would have to start the whole process from the beginning.

If you were not cleared, you would be marked with chalk and they would take you elsewhere for more screening. Some of the things that would cause this were signs of being contagious, poor physique, if you seemed feeble minded or insane. If you were determined to be one of these you would be denied entrance at that time. You would be taken to the dormitory room. It was one big room filled with long rows of bunk beds. A meal would be served but it would be very simple. (something like stewed prunes and dried bread) The food would get better with time though. Water was available to drink and bathrooms were provided. Only 2 percent of those coming over were excluded from entry.

If you had an emergency or something that could be quickly healed, you would be sent to the hospital room. Minor illness would not make you be sent away from America. This room had less beds than the dormitory.

Despite officials thinking that immigration was going to slow after the first few years, 1907 set the record. The continued high immigration rates meant that masons and carpenters were continually working, to increase the size of the station, to make sure it could handle everyone.

A man named Fiorello LaGuardia worked for three years at Ellis Island. His parents were immigrants from Italy. He spoke Italian, Croatian and Yiddish, all fluently. His job was to translate and he attended law school at night at New York University. After he became a lawyer, he went on to represent many immigrants when they had deprtation cases. This man eventually went on to be the first to win 3 terms in a row as mayor of New York.

Lore has told us immigrants were forced to change their last name to make it more american. This is not found to be true. Immigrants were given the option to change it if they chose but were not forced and it was done before they left their previous country or after they were settled in the United States. There is only one exception. Frank Woodhull showed up and admitted he had been living as a man for 15 years but was really born Mary Johnson. He had to change his name back to the birth name of Mary Johnson.

During WWI, while the military was there, inspections had to be done onboard the ships. When it reopened for immigration purposes, there was a total of 225,206 immigrants received that year

When the government tried to sell the island, people had grand ideas on what to do with it. A drug rehab facility was mentioned, as was a resort Marina. Frank Lloyd Wright suggested an experimental city of the future. None of them ever made it, and the government never sold it.

A bridge was built to help with bringing building supplies and personnel. It runs from Liberty State Park, where the Statue of Liberty stands. Liberty Island is not open for visitors though.

Stories of Immigrants

Giuseppe D'Amico was moving to America to reunite with his family. He was an electrician. His work was part of a union and he was unable to find work. He had to learn a new trade. A family member who was a seamstress, taught him. He started learning from her and turned it into a buisiness of designing gowns as a very skilled dressmaker.

Tong Ly Jue was from China. He was an herbalist. He moved with his wife, Jeang Quai. They ended up living in San Francisco's Chinatown. When he boarded the ship, he had many herbs and medicines, from China, with him and helped people with them after settling in California. He is recorded as one of the 1st herbalists to come through Ellis Island.

Iparhos Perdikis was 16 in 1921 when he traveled with his parents. They stayed in New York City. He was one who decided to change his name. He became Harold Perrin. He loved music and dance. Eventually, he became a performer in nightclubs across America. He also worked on vaudeville stages.


Pre 1630s Island known as:

Kioshk Island

1630s-1663 It was called

Oyster Island by the Dutch settlers

1664 The Brittish briefly called it Gull Island but soon changed it to Gibbet Island, due to wooden post of gibbet on the island

Other names it went by

Dyre Island, Bucking Island, and Anderson's Island

1770s Samuel Ellis bought the island, as a private owner

January 20, 1785 Ellis tried to sell it to someone else

July 11, 1794 Samuel Ellis passed away

1807 New York state bought the island from Ellis' family

1808 The United States government bought it from New York

1812 Fort Gibson has been built and used to house prisoners during the War of 1812

1839 Last hanging performed on the Island

1861 It officially became Ellis Island

April 1861 Union Army starts using the island for a munitions arsenal

1890 Goverment of the United States takes over responsibilty for immigration regulation and sets aside $75,000.00, which would be $41,901,428.57 today, to make the station.

January 1, 1892 Ellis Island immigration facility opened

June 15, 1897 Fire rampages immigration station

About 1900 Crooked immigration officials were willing to let immigrants not go to Ellis Island for inspection if they paid 1 or 2 dollars

December 17, 1900 New building is completed to replace the destroyed one

1907 1.25 million immigrants were processed, more than any other year

1907 to 1910 Fiorello LaGuardia worked at Ellis Island

1908 Only exception to name change policy happened

1914-1918 Captured enemy aliens were confined to Ellis Island

1915 Wards for hospitals, and contagious diseases were finished, as well as dorms and kitchens

1916 Doctors could detect many medical issues just by glancing at the immigrant

1918-1919 Enemy aliens were transfered out of Ellis Island to other locations

At this time, the Army Medical Department and United States Navy took over the station for the remaining time of the war.

1920 Island reopens for immigration receiving

1921 Quota Laws passed, started to slow immigration through Ellis Island

1924 National Origins Act being passed made another huge hit to Ellis Island immigrants

After 1924 War refugees, displace people and people with paperwork issues are only ones held at Ellis Island. It was used for other things too

1950s The United States government tried to sell the Island

November 12, 1954 Last detainee, Arne Peterssen was released, Ellis Island offically closed

1965 Ellis Island made a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument by President Lyndon B Johnson.

1976 - 1984 Opened to public for viewing on limited basis

1984 The largest historic restoration in United States history began on Ellis Island

September 10, 1990 Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened in the Main Building

September 11, 2001 Trade Center Attack made patrols of island necessary, United States Park Police Marine Patrold unit got the job

March 1, 2003 INS gets restructured into 3 bureaus as part of Homeland Security

May 20, 2015 Peopling of America Center completed and museum renamed Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.


  • Samuel Ellis advertises to sell Oyster Island (Ellis Island), no takers, by Charles Feigelstock: www.famousdaily.com/history/samuel-ellis-to-sell-ellis-island.html

See Also:


This is an "orphaned" profile — there's no Profile Manager to watch over it. Please adopt this profile.

  • Login to edit this profile and add images.
  • Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)


Leave a message for others who see this profile.
There are no comments yet.
Login to post a comment.