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• This idea can even be carried one step further. Suppose you cannot find the immigration record of one of your ancestors but you can locate the record of the person’s spouse. Even though they may have been married in America, there is a strong chance that both of them came from the same region of Italy, Sweden, Germany, etc. Use this information to focus your search effort on ships that brought people from the region of your ancestors.

Statue of Liberty
This is the view of the Statue of Liberty that successful immigrants would have seen as they were taken by boat to Lower Manhatten.

lower Manhattan skyline at night
This is Lower Manhattan at night as it looks today from Ellis Island. There were unconfirmed newspaper reports back in the day of rejected immigrants who tried to swim for it instead of being deported.

• Be aware that not all immigrants who landed at New York City had to go through Ellis Island. Passengers in first class and second class were processed aboard their ships and then disembarked in downtown Manhattan. It was only passengers in steerage (third class) who had to go to Ellis Island. Immigrants who could afford first or second classes clearly were not destitute and were probably also not communists or anarchists. They were viewed as lower risk.

• Prior to Ellis Island opening in 1892, immigrants were processed at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Lower Manhattan. A total of 8 million immigrants passed through Castle Garden. Thus if you think your ancestor may have arrived before 1892, you also need to check the Castle Garden records.

• During World War II, Ellis Island was used to intern German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war. Many sick or wounded US soldiers were also processed through the island on their way home (the island had a hospital and extensive medical facilities).

• The best place on the internet to find Ellis Island records is at www.ellisisland.org For Castle Garden records, visit www.castlegarden.org. Some Ellis Island records can also be found using the free Genealogy Search Engine.

Related Resources

Getting Started Researching Your Family History

Ten Effective Strategies for Building a Family Tree

The Key to Understanding Family Relationships

Why Immigrants Change Their Name

Migration Within a Country

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