Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The "isle of hope and tears" revisited

If you've been reading 100 Years in America, you know that Ellis Island was the place in America where Ferencz Ujlaki arrived from Hungary in 1906, and where his young family followed him several years later. Ilona Ujlaki emigrated in 1909 and found her young son hospitalized at Ellis Island for measles.

Odds are, if you are an American, your family may have also passed through this "isle of hope and tears", as they call it. According to this Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation webpage:
Ellis Island...is likely to connect with more of the American population than any other spot in the country. It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their ancestry to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island.

Whether your family has a connection to this Gateway to America or not, you may find it interesting to make a visit to the island today. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened its doors in 1990. It is a wonderful step back into the history of immigration and into the lives of millions of citizen hopefuls who passed through the island on their way into America (or, sadly for some, on their way back to their home countries after a problematic inspection). Click here for a thought-provoking Flickr slideshow with images of tourists visiting Ellis Island today.

I'm hopeful that the story of Ellis Island and its brave immigrants will not be forgotten by future generations. Scholastic has a nice Interactive Tour of Ellis Island designed for students. Also, the National Park Service offers kids a printable activity guide to the island as part of their Junior Park Ranger program.

If you would like to search for the passenger records of your family members who came through Ellis Island, go to The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. or use Steve Morse's search engines.

Already know how your ancestors immigrated to America? Whether they came through Ellis Island or not, tell your family's story in 800 words or less and have it added to other immigrants' experiences within The Peopling of America® exhibit created by the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Need some tips on how to learn more about your immigrant ancestor and what they experienced on their journey? The twenty-five minute Ancestors episode below is a good starting place. Telling the stories of those that left their homes behind, it gives you an inside look at Ellis Island, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum's recreations of several immigrants' living quarters, the Merseyside Maritime Museum's simulation of the lower deck of an immigrant ship, and the story of one woman's quest to learn the fate of her newly arrived great-aunt's ill baby. Although I thought I knew a lot about searching for records via passenger lists and naturalization records, this video taught me a few things.

I hope that you'll someday have the opportunity to visit the famed "isle of hope and tears" yourself. More importantly, I hope that this place that saw so many hopeful immigrants pass through its doors will inspire you to search for and discover the story of your own family's journey.


  1. Very nice post! My great-grandfather actually passed through Ellis Island in 1913 using someone else's passport (he returned back to Bosnia in the early 20s).

    I visited NYC in 2006 but unfortunately, was on a tight schedule and didn't have time to visit the museum there. Will have to go back there one day soon!

  2. Beautifully written and inspirational piece. You've got me wanting to go visit!

  3. Thanks for pointing out Steve Morse's links. These were a g*dsend the other day and I often forget how useful they are!


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