In the history of the United States, few places hold a place as prominent as Ellis Island. Ellis Island was historically the busiest immigrant inspection station in the United States, from its opening in 1892 until it closed in 1954. Ellis Island is located in the upper bay of New York City and is now officially a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
When discussing Ellis Island for purposes of genealogy, it is important to bring up the types of records that were kept there during its opening. It was not uncommon for surnames to change from the time an individual or family left their point of origin to when they came to American shores through Ellis Island. Surnames may have changed for a large number of different reasons. Family members or heads of households may have opted for different spellings during registration, or even completely different last names altogether, in an attempt to fit in more with the idealized version of America they were entering. Likewise, with the sheer number of immigrants who were coming into the country through Ellis Island on a daily basis, misspellings and other errors on official records could potentially change a family’s surname forever. This was especially true of immigrants who spoke little to no English upon their arrival.
A large number of notable immigrants, both famous and infamous, passed through Ellis Island on their way into the United States. Isaac Asimov, a noted Russian novelist and one of the most important figures in the history of the science fiction genre, came through Ellis Island. Gangster Joseph Bonanno also came through Ellis Island during his journey into the U.S. from Italy. A large number of prominent individuals in the arts also were notable Ellis Island immigrants, and included people like composer Irving Berlin, actor Bob Hope, actor Cary Grant, and actress Claudette Colbert.
If you know a family member came through Ellis Island on their way into the country, it will likely be difficult to find those records and other official documents on your own. Today’s family historians still find the Ellis Island records to be a huge benefit when it comes to putting together the history of a particular family, though they have to use a variety of techniques to unravel what has become an admittedly tangled web over time.
One way today’s family historians can find records is to look for misspellings, potential alternate spellings, and other types of errors in Ellis Island records. A transcriber may have entered a record into the database inaccurately, for example, which would leave them hidden unless the searcher in question could find the appropriate misspelled entry through guesswork and a little luck.
Regardless, the millions of records that were kept at Ellis Island are an invaluable national treasure and, for many, are the starting point for putting together a complete picture of their family that dates back for generations. Ellis Island is an invaluable genealogical resource that continues to help people each and every day.