04 March 2013

They arrived at Ellis Island . . . or maybe not

Ellis Island from Trevor Harmon on Vimeo.

This video about the current temporary closure of Ellis Island, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, while Hurricane Sandy repairs are effected, got me thinking about some other times since Ellis Island opened (1 January 1892) when immigrants might have entered the United States through the Port of New York, but not through Ellis Island. It is important to check the dates immigrants arrived and their cabin class.

15 June 1897 - 16 December 1900: 

Original wood Ellis Island Immigrant Processing depot
If an immigrant arrived at the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924 when Ellis Island was open as an immigrant inspection station, the only clue the intrepid genealogist has for determining whether an immigrant actually experienced Ellis Island is the date of arrival shown on the manifest.

On 15 June 1897, shortly after midnight, a fire started in the main building of the first Ellis Island processing facility, within two hours reducing the wood buildings to ashes. [1] [2]

Miraculously, no lives were lost. There had been 222 people sleeping in the detention area. They were roused from sleep and ferried to the Barge Office on the southern tip of Manhattan. 

Charitable organizations provided clothing for immigrants who'd lost their belongings. For several days, the Barge Office was used as quarters for the immigrants until other lodging could be found. Immigrants on incoming ships were examined and discharged on board. 

Barge Office, circa 1901 [3]
Congress appropriated money to build new fire-proof buildings and the government commenced the process of rebuilding. During that time, the Barge Office was pressed into service, as it had previously (19 April 1890 - 31 December 1891) when the first Ellis Island facility was under construction. It was not until 17 December 1900 that Ellis Island was again open for service. 

My Liebross relatives who arrived in New York on 1 July 1898 were likely processed at the Barge Office, not Ellis Island. Only the date of arrival on the manifest is my clue.

Second Class

A cousin of mine noted that her mother, my great aunt Feigah Garber Buchman, always said that when she'd arrived in New York in 1922, she didn't go through Ellis Island. I was glad my cousin mentioned that tiny mystery because is forced me to go back and take another look at her mother Feigah's manifest.

While "second class" today has the denotation of sub-standard, in the case of the throngs coming through the Port of New York, second class meant higher class (i.e., better treatment). First and second class passengers were given cursory inspection for entry to the United States onboard ship. When the ship docked at the pier, first and second class passengers (i.e., those who had no legal issues) were allowed to disembark, pass through customs and be on their way. The thought was that these apparently more affluent passengers were less likely to become public burdens. [4] Steerage or third class passengers, however, were ferried to Ellis Island for medical and legal inspection.

My relatives, Feigah and her brother Aron, were the last of the Garber siblings to emigrate. Their older siblings must have decided to upgrade their fares. Feiga and Aron traveled second class aboard the Lapland to New York Harbor. [5] 

Second page of the manifest. Note "SECOND-CABIN PASSENGERS ONLY"

In this case, the manifest provides the answer. On the second page (see above, circled in red) it indicates that this particular sheet was for "Second-Cabin Passengers Only." [6]

So, look closely at relative's manifest pages. One may learn that an immigrant's arrival might have been a bit different than imagined. 

1. "The Ellis Island Blaze," The Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 16 June 1897, page 5; digital image, Genealogy Bank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 4 March 2013).
2. Cannato, Vincent J. American Passage: The History of Ellis Island (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), 107f.
3. Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, "Barge Office, New York" digital image, circa 1900, (http://www.loc.gov/pictures : accessed 27 February 2013).
4. http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp
5. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 7 February 2009), manifest, Lapland, Antwerp to New York, arriving 2 April 1922, list 7, Feiga and Aron Garber, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial T715.  
6. I have not found information specific to second class accomodation on the White Star Line's S.S. Lapland in 1922, however, this link provides an idea of second class  acomodations on the S.S. Majestic in 1922. I believe the Majestic was probably a bit fancier than the Lapland at that time.


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