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Immigration History & the U.S, Part 4 - Immigration after 1820

The recording of immigrants into the United State is of a relatively recent history. Awareness of this history, the dates for which records were kept, and the ports active during specific periods can help genealogists narrow their research.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Alan Smith
Word Count: 682 (approx.)
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One reason for the scarcity of information concerning early immigration is the fact that the United States government did not start recording lists of immigrants arriving into the country until 1820. It was not until 1875 before the Supreme Court ruled that it was the responsibility of the government to keep track of all immigrants, and it was not until 1891 before the government assumed the task of inspecting, admitting, and rejecting immigrants. I was surprised by how late in the development of this country's administration that the subject of immigration had finally loomed important enough to be contested in a court room.

Castle Garden which was constructed in 1811 as the West battery fort to defend New York from the British would be the first official emigrant depot. The War of 1812 was building up during that time. The facility changed names and function several times and in 1855 it served as an emigrant staging area. Unfortunately, most of the 8 to 12 million immigration records were burned in a pier fire. Today the site is known as the Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan in New York city.

By the way, the name Clinton was from New York City mayor, Dewitt Clinton, not President Clinton. Free access to what remains of the records between 1820 and 1913 are available at CastleGarden.org.

Most likely you have heard about Ellis Island and the renewed emphasis on immigration records. Ellis Island was called Oyster Island and was re-named after colonial New Yorker, Samuel Ellis. It was located at the mouth of the Hudson river in the New York Harbor. It was the main entry point for immigration from January 1, 1892 to November 12, 1954. At its height in 1907, over 1 million of the 12 million immigrants flowed through its gates with a record of over 11,000 immigrants showing up on one day during that same year. The list of the immigrants is still being processed and a large section of names from 1892 to 1924 of Ellis Island can be found for free at EllisIsland.org.

The 1907 U.S. Immigration Act also caused the government to swing its attention southward toward the Mexican border. This forced the administration to confront the immigration of foreigners from multiple ports of entry into the United States, rather than just New York. By 1924 passports were required to enter the U.S. and by 1940 alien registration receipt cards were the predecessor to the 1950 green card. This was an obvious solution to processing immigrants at various locations. Finally, by 1952 a quota system was launched, creating much of today's immigration policies. All of these changes are important to a genealogical researcher by helping to know how a family member was processed, where he would of been processed, and in what years such immigration records would be created.

With the advent of the computer and the Internet, border officials can keep track of any entrance and exit into the country with a push of a button.

It is interesting to note that as our nation argues over how to treat illegal immigrants, the subject of the contraction of space and opportunity to a financial future, will remain as the principle concerns of succeeding generations. The concerns over the migration of thousands will continue to cause increased friction, urging the creation of diverging policies to be written. To our forefathers the idea of the loss of space, identity, and jobs would not have been imaginable as an important issue. When they set foot on American soil, it appeared to them that United States was boundless and unending in opportunities. The streets may not have been paved in gold, but the roads stretched over the endless horizon for anyone with a bit of grit to explore.

Other Articles in This Series

Immigration History & the U.S, Part 1 - Historical Influences on U.S. Immigrants

Immigration History & the U.S., Part 2 - The Colonial Period of Immigration

Immigration History & the U.S, Part Part 3 - History of Early American Ports

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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