Have you ever packed up the house and moved? Did you move around the corner? To another town? To another part of the country? Overseas? How different from your original home was the new one? Or have you lived in the same town, street, neighborhood all of your life? Was all of this by your choice?
My recent trip to New York City got me to thinking about this subject of moving. Hold the phone - I’m not moving anywhere on a permanent basis right now, mainly because I don’t want to clean out all the closets. But, during my visit to NYC, I thought a bit about what it might take to get me to change my location. I’ve moved from one state to another, but still close to the “home” in Jersey. I moved within the state, here in Maryland. The move with the most impact, however, was my move to Japan in the early 1970’s. This was a move courtesy of the U.S. Army and friends. It was a career move for Hub. And it took both of us to the other side of the globe before the days of globalized cell phones and Skype. Chances were good that we weren’t getting back home unless something drastic happened. It was a three-year adventure into a totally different culture, and a world where I was functionally illiterate. When we said good-bye to some relatives, it was really good-bye… and we knew it.
Is this the way our immigrant ancestors dealt with their big moves to the US? My trip out to Ellis Island brought all of these old memories back into my head. Many of my relatives emigrated from Ireland and Scotland, and the happy (?) medium, Northern Ireland. Some came from Germany. Many came over long before the heyday of Ellis Island… but, then, I’m not really sure. As I rode the ferry past the Statue of Liberty, I tried to imagine what my ancestors would have felt coming to America.
|First glimpse of America for most European immigrants|
Seeing Lady Liberty lift her lamp to all is a breathtaking moment. If I were on a ship bound for the US with only my clothes on my back and a few precious possessions in my satchel, I would probably feel a mixture of excitement and panic. Would I be able to move from the Island to the Mainland? Am I healthy enough for this country? Since I don’t have a relative to sponsor me, will they let me in anyway? What if I’m sent back? Could I get in the “back door” through Philadelphia?
|Lady Liberty lifts her lamp upon the Golden Door|
|Ellis Island Immigration Museum|
After landing, I would have to be ferried out to Ellis Island to be processed into America. If I had baggage, it would be sent to the baggage room to await my in-processing. Once I was cleared to enter, then I could claim my baggage or pay to have it shipped with me to my final destination – wherever in this country that would be. I would move with the crowds upstairs in the main building to the Great Hall. There, amid the cacophony of organized chaos, I would experience the true melting pot of America. Among a variety of languages, I would have to declare my country of origin, give them my full name (and hope they spelled it correctly), declare my reasons for leaving my home country, declare my trade (if I had one), and my final destination along with who will be meeting me there to an immigration agent. Then there was a basic health screening. Here I would be checked for breathing problems, body lice, and the possibility of communicable diseases, like trachoma, a type of blinding conjunctivitis that comes from poor personal hygiene. I would have to wait on hard benches until my number would be called. The only consolation was that I wasn’t alone, and I did get fed decent meals in the dining hall. For some minor health problems, I would be able to stay in the Hospital, a separate building on the Island. Hopefully, I would be cleared to enter the country, and continue my travel to my final destination, wherever that would be. Ellis Island would be the easy part… building a new life, a bit more difficult. Would I be up for the challenge?
|Walk around the buildings, imposing structures|
|Baggage room - Main Processing Building|
|Up the steps to the Great Hall|
|Immigrants lined up to be processed into our country...|
|...many sat on these original benches, waiting to be called...|
|...to the desk, where agents would record an immigrant's arrival.|
|Public health hospital on Ellis Island - tours are now available|
|Original floor in the Main Hall - who walked here in the past?|
Walking those halls in the footsteps of my ancestors was a humbling experience. Now I can appreciate their courage to move to another country. The opportunities, when they came over, were fantastic, and my great-family members were able to make the most of it, in spite of the ethnic discrimination (oh, the perils of being Irish AND Catholic).
When I checked into my family history, most of my ancestors arrived through Philadelphia. There were a few relatives that may have come through New York. It really doesn’t matter where they came in now, because their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are reaping the benefits of their courageous decision to emigrate.
|One of many timelines for immigration at the museum|
Ellis Island – a wealth of immigration history, a place where you can experience what your family members may have experienced, a location that processed an average of over one million immigrants a year between the years of 1892 and 1924. It is a must-do destination when visiting New York City.
|Many original photos added to the displays, designed to give you the immigrant's experience|
Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse in any form without permission.
For more information on visiting Ellis Island while in New York City, check http://www.statueoflibertytickets.com.
* from "(They come into) America", music and lyrics by Neil Diamond. Video from YouTube.com