Frequently Asked Questions
What is Ellis Island? Ellis Island was the former federal immigration processing station which processed over 12 million third class and steerage immigrants between 1892 and 1954. It was named after the last private owner of the island, Samuel Ellis. The island was added to the National Park Service in May of 1965 by Presidential Proclamation; however it took over a quarter of a century for part of the island to be restored. In September of 1990, the Main Building opened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. The park, comprised of Liberty and Ellis Islands, is administered by the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior.
Did my ancestors go through Ellis Island? Third class and "steerage" immigrants, coming through the Port of New York, were the largest group processed at Ellis Island. First and second-class immigrant travelers were processed on-board steamships entering New York Harbor due to their higher financial status and lower risk of carrying dangerous diseases or having other severe health issues. Also, there were other ports of entry around the United States, so your ancestors may have been processed elsewhere, such as Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans, or Chicago, just to name a few other places.
Where were immigrants processed before Ellis Island opened? Before Ellis Island opened, immigrants were required to be processed by the State, not the federal government. Castle Garden (originally and presently known as Castle Clinton) was a fort built for the War of 1812, located in Battery Park, NY. It served as the New York immigration processing station between 1855 and 1890.
Can I find out if my relatives went through Ellis Island? Yes, the more information you know, the easier this search can be. The National Archives and Records Administration is the official repository for the nation's manifest documents. Original manifests are on microfilm at the National Archives. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation opened the American Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island in 2001 which contains a database of copied manifests for Ellis Island and the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. The center's database is also on-line at www.ellisisland.org.
Why does our database end in 1924? Changes in immigration laws were put in place requiring immigrants to be pre-processed and inspected at an American embassy or consulate in their own country before making the journey to America. This began Ellis Island's change in importance and usage from an immigrant processing center to a detention facility for enemy aliens, those immigrants over-staying their leave, any potentionally undesireable immigrants, and those with questionable cases.
When did Ellis Island open? Ellis Island officially opened as an immigration station on January 1, 1892. Seventeen-year-old Annie Moore, from County Cork, Ireland was the first immigrant to be processed at the new federal immigration depot.
Can I visit other buildings on the Island? Currently, the Main Building is open for visitation every operating day. In April 2007, the restored 1930's Ferry House was opened to the public. This art deco-styled facility is open for limited guided tours when staffing permits. These programs are led by a team of "Save Ellis Island" volunteers or by National Park Service Rangers. Nearly 30 additional buildings, mostly medical facilities, remain un-restored.
Is Ellis Island in New York or New Jersey? Good question! The short answer is yes to both states. Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1998, Ellis Island, which is federal property, belongs within the territorial jurisdiction of both New York and New Jersey depending upon where you are. The Main Building, housing the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, is within the boundary of New York State. Since the island was expanded over many years to its current 27.5 acres, this expanded area is now mostly within the territory of New Jersey. First and foremost, the entire island remains federal property, as it has been since 1808.
Can people visit Ellis Island other than by ferry boat? No. Public access to Ellis Island is only via ferry boat operated by an authorized concession of the National Park Service. The docking of private vessels is strictly prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations.
Are pets allowed on the ferry or in the park? No, pets are prohibited from using the ferry system and being at Liberty & Ellis Islands. (Documented service/assist animals are exempt from this policy).
How long do I need to visit Ellis Island? It will depend upon what you want to do while visiting. Generally, two to three hours is ample time to visit.
Do I need a reservation to visit Ellis Island? No, however, reservations may be made to get priority entrance at our security screening points through Statue Cruises.
Can I get a reserved tour? Ranger-guided tours are offered to the public on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved. Program listings are posted each day at the Ellis Island information desk and frequency is dependent upon daily staffing levels.
Are wheelchairs available for rental? No; however, a limited number of wheelchairs are available to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis. Picture I.D. is needed to obtain one while visiting the island. Park staff are available to assist visitors at the information desk.
Are there storage facilities at Ellis Island? No. Visitors must carry and keep everything they bring with them at all times.
If I'm using a car to get to the ferry, is parking available? Ferries depart from Battery Park in New York and from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. Although private parking gararges may be available to you in NY, parking is usually very limited and can be costly. There is ample car and bus parking at the ferry area in Liberty State Park in New Jersey and parking fees are lower than those in New York City.
What do I do if I lost something at Ellis Island? If you are still at Ellis, go to the Information Desk in the Baggage Room and ask the ranger if your item was turned in. If it wasn't, you can fill out a Lost and Found report so your item can be returned to you if it is turned in after you leave. If you discover your loss after you leave the park, you can still make a report.
Did You Know?
During the island's 62 years of operation, over 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, including quite a few who went on to become famous such as: Frank Capra, Bela Lugosi, Baron Von Trapp, Irving Berlin, Max Factor, Claudette Colbert, Rudolph Valentino, Igor Sikorsky and Bob Hope.