• Immigrants awaiting inspection in front of Ellis Island's Main Building

    Ellis Island

    Part of Statue of Liberty National Monument NJ,NY

Clerk

21654 Clerks
Clerks and interpreters who worked on Ellis Island c. 1933.
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM
 

Given the enormous amount of paperwork that needed to be done at Ellis Island, it comes as no surprise that dozens and dozens of clerks and stenographers were employed there. The clerks - both male and female - kept a running tabulation of the number of immigrants flowing to the island for inspection each day, the disposal of their cases and their subsequent departures. Clerks stored away the steamship passenger manifests, completed detention and deportation cards, wrote reports and dossiers, and filed away and retrieved warrant case records. Meanwhile, the island's stenographers - each of them an expert in writing shorthand script and using the typewriter - were essential participants during immigration hearings of the various boards of special inquiry.

 
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Augustus Sherman, Chief Clerk of Ellis Island

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

Augustus F. Sherman (1865-1925) Chief Clerk

Known for the striking photographs he took of detained immigrants, the talented amateur photographer Augustus Sherman also occupied the highly responsible post of chief clerk of Ellis Island. A native of northeastern Pennsylvania, Augustus joined his elder brother in New York City in 1889. By the 1890s, the brothers were both working as clerks at Ellis Island. After his brother quit to become a lawyer, Augustus climbed up the clerical ranks at the station, eventually becoming chief clerk.

Among Sherman's duties, was the handling of appeals to the Ellis Island Commissioner of Immigration made by immigrants that had been barred from entering the country by one of the boards of Special Inquiry. These boards heard the cases of detained immigrants and rendered a decision about the immigrants' right to enter the United States.

Because of his involvement in this process, Sherman was able to photograph any willing detainee. This, as well as his technical perfectionism, made Sherman quite selective in choosing his subjects. Often, Sherman asked the immigrants to pose in their native costumes. Although his bureaucratic career is largely forgotten, Sherman's legacy comes to us through the body of photographic work he left behind. Through the cold lens of the camera, his artistic eye and deft hands presesrved a world of elaborately costumed immigrants that otherwise might have been lost.

 
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An English Jewish family, a mother and her 6 children, photographed outside a building on Ellis Island, c. 1910.
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM
 
Wilhelm Schleich, a Bavarian Miner, photographed outside of the Main Immigration Building c. 1892-1927.

Wilhelm Schleich, a Bavarian Miner, photographed outside of the Main Immigration Building c. 1920.
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

A Cantonese woman photographed outside the Main Immigration Building c. 1892-1927.

An Asian woman photographed outside the Main Immigration Building c. 1920
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

 
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A woman from Guadaloupe, French West Indies, 1911. 
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

Did You Know?

Notable Ellis Island Immigrants

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.