Immigration at Ellis Island

Categories: Immigration

Specific Purpose: to inform my audience about the immigration process at Ellis Island Central

Idea: The immigration process at Ellis Island had four main steps: arriving at Ellis Island, the medical examination, interrogation, and actually leaving the island

Method of Organization: chronological

Have you ever wondered where your family history lies and how your ancestors ended up in America? Well, chances are that your ancestors traveled to America and entered through Ellis Island in New York City. Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892 and became our nation’s most popular immigration station.

Up until its closing in 1954, the station processed over 12 million immigrants. In order to become a citizen, though, there were four main steps in the process of immigration at Ellis Island: arriving to America, a medical examination, interrogation, and actually leaving the island.

Transition: First I will tell you about the first step of immigration.

I. The first step in the immigration process at Ellis Island is actually arriving to Amrtica.

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a. Once the ship arrived in New York Harbor, inspectors came on board to inspect the first and second class passengers. i. The inspectors checked for any contagious diseases plague, measles, and typhoid fever, as well as others. ii. If any passenger was suspected of having a disease, they were sent further on to Ellis Island, which happened very rarely. iii. According to, the theory was that if a person could afford to purchase a first or second class ticket, they were less likely to become a public charge in America due to medical or legal reasons.

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b. This first step was far different for “steerage” or third class passengers. i. After the first and second class passengers disembarked in the harbor of New York, the third class passengers were then sent to Ellis Island for a thorough inspection. ii. They were transported to Ellis Island by a ferry that could take only 30 passengers at a time. iii. Before boarding the ferry, each emigrant received a nametag with their individual manifest number that was then stuck to their clothes.

Transition: Next I will tell you about the second step of immigration.

II. The second step in the immigration process at Ellis Island is the medical examination. a. Once on the island, the immigrants were viewed quickly by doctors to look for weakness, heavy breathing, which was an indication of heart problems, and signs of mental illness. b. After every immigrant passed, a doctor with the help of an interpreter examined the hair, face, neck, and hands of every person. i. If the doctor noticed something abnormal, he would write a letter on the immigrant’s clothing as a sign that an area needed to be checked more thoroughly. ii. About 2 of 10 immigrants got a letter on their clothing. iii. This check was known as the “six second physical.”

c. Next was the eye exam. i. The eye doctors searched for a disease of the eyes called trachoma, which is an eye disease that can cause blindness and can lead to death. ii. According to the Ellis Island information website, the nearly 50% of those who had to be examined further before registration was due to this eye disease. d. If an immigrant had other diseases or was too sick or weak to manage work, they were not allowed to enter the United States. i. Sick children 12 years of age and older were sent back by themselves to their home country. ii. Children under 12 years of age that were not allowed to stay in the United States were forced to go back with one parent.

Transition: Now I will tell you about the third step of immigration.

III. The third step in the immigration process at Ellis Island is interrogation. a. After the check-up with the doctors, the immigrants were sent to the registry room to stand in lines to wait for the interrogation. i. Here the inspectors would double check the name, age, religion, last residence, sex, civil stats and if the immigrant should meet up with some other relative. ii. Every inspector had only approximately two minutes with each immigrant to determine that the information was correct and that the person could take care of himself and fulfil the demands to be able to stay in the United States. iii. Due to the time with each immigrant being short, this is where the spelling of some immigrant’s names would end up being spelled wrong.

Transition: Lastly, I will tell you about the fourth and final step of immigration.

IV. The fourth step in the immigration process at Ellis Island is getting to leave the island. a. After approval and receiving their “landing card”, it was time to prepare to leave the island and continue to their final destination. b. Before leaving the island, immigrants were able to exchange money, buy travel tickets, and claim their luggage. i. Immigrants were able to exchange gold, silver, and foreign currency for American dollars. ii. For those immigrants who wanted to travel to further cities outside of New York would buy train tickets to get to their destination. iii. After everything was said and done, immigrants were able to claim their luggage and leave the island.


With their landing card, American money, train ticket, and luggage in hand, the immigrants were ready to leave Ellis Island and embark on their journey in America. If you are ever bored some Sunday afternoon I suggest going to Ellis Island’s website where you can enter your ancestor’s name and do a passenger search. According to, today, over 40% of America’s population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. I found all of my great-great grandparents’ names and their information on the manifest sheets, and it truly is amazing to see.

Cite this page

Immigration at Ellis Island. (2016, Mar 12). Retrieved from

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