A Visit to Ellis Island- Ellis Island Immigrants from Germany

A few years ago I visited the Bremerhaven Auswandererhaus  (Emigration Museum), this year I paid a visit to Ellis Island, where many of the immigrants landed on the other side of the Atlantic. The museum houses the other half of the immigration story. I went, unsure of how much German history I would see, after all, Ellis Island acted as an immigration station for 12 million people of all nationalities from 1892 to 1924. There was a lot to see. On display are posters, identity cards, artifacts, and even a diary; Ellis Island immigrants from Germany are well represented. Although Ellis Island closed in 1955, a few years before my parents came to America, we were touched by the exhibits. Here is why you should add Ellis Island to your “must-visit” list.

ellis island immigrants germany

Ellis Island History

From 1855- 1890, Immigrants to America came through Castle Garden… but more space was needed. In 1890, the Federal Government spent $75,000 constructing facilities on Ellis Island. On January 1, 1890, 3 shiploads of immigrants were waiting to be processed. That first year, Ellis Island saw 450,000 people come through the doors. Over the years, new buildings were added to make space.

When the doors closed in 1955, 12 million people entered the US through Ellis Island. To put this in perspective… 40% of Americans have at least one relative who came through Ellis Island.

But it wasn’t just Immigration…

During the First World War, the immigration numbers dropped considerably. And by 1917 the buildings housed German citizens who were being housed until they could be deported.

And again in World War II, Ellis Island became a sort of internment camp or way station for Germans and their American-born children, who were waiting for transfer to Crystal City (an internment camp in Texas) or deportation/repatriation to Germany. (quick aside- altogether, 2650 Germans were returned to Germany on 6 ships). By 1947, 156 Germans were still waiting for release…the last was let go in 1948.

Ellis Island

You get to Ellis Island by Ferry. It’s the same ferry that goes to the Statue of Liberty. You can choose whether or not to get off at either island…  you can also just sit on the deck and enjoy the scenery.

The entry to the Ellis Island Museum takes you into the Baggage Room. From here, you can go left to search through records in the American Family Immigration History Center… or right to the Theater. Because my family arrived later, we chose to go upstairs to the Peak Immigration Years exhibit.


NPS statue-of-liberty-ellis-island-floor-mapU.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ellis Island Immigrants from Germany

1 in 5 people in the United States can trace back to Germany. One million Germans came through Ellis Island. (Keep in mind, there were other immigration points…before Ellis Island opened in 1892, over 18 million had arrived.)

A wall of personal identification papers with photos humanizes the immigrants. Men, women, families… with little bits of information to give you an inkling of their stories.

Ellis island immigrants germany

Ellis island immigrants germany

On display was a diary written by Karl Puffe, describing his miserable journey. High waves, dizziness, sickness… but good plums and pretzels…


German immigrants had been lured to America for years! Some of the early pamphlets came out of Pennsylvania. Both William Penn and Francis Daniel Pastorius of Germantown wrote and distributed glowing reports about Germany. Later other writers would write books with tips for those curious about moving to America.

Ellis island immigrants germany

With 100 Marks to America- Advice and Experiences


So many ships made that crossing over the Atlantic, bringing immigrants to America…

Loaded with passengers… all hoping for a new start in the new world.

ellis island immigrants germany

Germans arrived… wide-eyed and ready for their new lives. Sadly, some of the immigrants were taken advantage of. German-American Societies formed  near immigration ports to help the new arrivals to help them navigate in a land where they didn’t know the language, and to keep them out of the hands of unscrupulous people. Posters warned the immigrants of possible dangers.

Ellis island immigrants germany

1920s poster in Germany- “Emigrants! Look at the victims of unscrupulous agents! In foreign countries no one will look after your needs”

And my favorite…

Ellis island immigrants germany

Because girls travelled alone hoping for a position as a servant, were sometimes caught up in prostitution (some things don’t change), warnings were issued.
“Urgent warning to Emigrant Girls” 
‘Make sure your position is respectable before traveling’

Then it’s out through the massive Registry Room

ellis island immigrants germany

Once this room was lined with benches and people waited.
(aside- The Auswandererhaus in Bremerhaven has a reproduction of this space… including sound effects)

Ellis Island arrivals
Underwood & Underwood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

All new immigrants underwent medical inspection to check for disease. Then they waited for their legal inspection… where they were asked their name, occupation, and destination. If they failed, they would be taken to the Board of Inquiry.

Immigrant children being examined by city health officer upon arrival at the battery from Ellis Island during Typhus Scare
mákvirágok, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Children being examined for Typhus

Today, the room is a massive and mostly empty space. (except for tourists and occasional German immigrants who just wandered into my photo…)

ellis island

Go up another level to find more displays…

A dormitory recreation… and the pieces people brought from home.

Use the Ellis Island Archives for Your Genealogy Searches.

You can use some of the information stored at Ellis Island for your own personal Genealogy journey! Passenger lists are online here-> Passenger Search
This will give you the name of the ship your ancestor arrived on… for a fee, you can order the passenger record and ship manifest. (I was able to find a great uncle’s name)

For a small fee, you can get the help of a research assistant. Click here for more information about that-> Research Help at Ellis Island

Get Tickets for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Our time at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum was too short. To properly see everything you need a few hours. (We stayed only 1 1/2 hours).

There are warnings on the Ellis Island Website about buying Tickets from Street Sellers. Don’t Do it.
You can buy tickets in person at Castle Clinton in Battery Park.  Or from one of these vendors –

One last thing-

I love this video because it puts immigration numbers into perspective.



History- Ellis Island Immigration History

Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island Information

New York History- Castle Garden

National Parks Service- Ellis Island


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