Although I have learned a lot about immigration doing research on my book, the museum is full of useful information. I enjoyed the way it is laid out. The first floor contains many multimedia exhibits about all peoples in the US. I commend the National Park Service for not hiding the dark side of US history. The broad overview panels do not flinch from stories of oppression of Native Americans, enslavement of Africans to build the economy, as well as the brutality of the creation of the railroads with Chinese labor. I also learned a lot about some European immigration waves such as the emigration of 300,000 people from Sweden in the 1880s to escape a poor economy and religious limitations.
The second floor provides a step-by-step experience of the process immigrants went through. Great explanations, photos and some artifacts. Here are a few photos with captions explaining them. You can find out more about the process on this page from a kids’ history site. I like it for a quick summary.
Note on images: best viewed on computer or tablet. Click an image to enlarge or view slideshow.
Arrival at the Island and Initial Inspection
If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall), where doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these “six second physicals.”
By 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anemia to goiters to varicose veins) just by glancing at an immigrant. The ship’s manifest log, that had been filled out back at the port of embarkation, contained the immigrant’s name and his/her answers to twenty-nine questions. This document was used by the legal inspectors at Ellis Island to cross-examine the immigrant during the legal (or primary) inspection.
Click the image for more information on the process.
Source: Ellis Island History – The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. Accessed September 01, 2017. https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ellis-island-history#Arrival.
A puzzle which was one of the psychological tests. Unfortunately, some people who spoke no English, were initially misidentified as have mental issues. The doctors usually found them quickly.
They had a set of questions to identify whether you were “undesirable” in some way. I tried and failed the Anarchist test.
Waiting in line to exchange money. There was also a railroad ticket office. Since most of the immigrants did not speak English, they would have their destination pinned to their coat. Occasionally they ended up in the wrong city.
The 29 Questions Asked of Immigrants at Ellis Island
- Your manifest number
- What is your full name?
- How old are you?
- Are you male or female?
- Are you married, single, widowed or divorced?
- What is your occupation?
- Are you able to read and write?
- What country are you from?
- What is your race?
- What was your last permanent place of residence? (city and country)
- What is the name and address of a relative from your native country?
- What is your final destination in America? (city and state)
- Your number on the immigration list
- Do you have a ticket to your final destination?
- Who paid for your passage?
- How much money do you have? (at least the equivalent of $50 dollars was preferred)
- Have you been to America before? If so when, where and how long?
- Are you meeting a relative here in America? If so, who and their address?
- Have you been in a prison, charity almshouse, or insane asylum?
- Are you a polygamist?
- Are you an anarchist?
- Are you coming to America for a job? What and where will you work?
- What is the condition of your health?
- Are you deformed or crippled?
- How tall are you?
- What is your skin color?
- What color are your eyes and hair?
- Do you have any identifying marks?
- Where were you born? (city and country)