In 1920 my great-grandfather, Vito, came to America from Sarconi, Italy on the Regina d Italia. Now, nearly 100 years later, my grandma (his daughter) and I got to stand in the registration room and walk through Ellis Island, just like he had.
Our first stop on our tour was the Statue of Liberty, and it was truly an amazing feeling to see the Statue for the first time, traveling by boat, just like my ancestors had. After touring the Statue, we boarded another ferry that led us to Ellis Island. When the ferry docked, everyone stood up, lined up by the exit and waited for the doors to open so we could disembark. I wondered to myself if the herd of shoulder-to-shoulder people I found myself in, that were slowing inching their way to the exit, was similar to how it must have been in the 20's when millions immigrated to the States. Everyone was eager to get to Ellis Island, then and now.
Ellis Island, which opened January 1st, 1892, was the first and largest federal immigrant processing station, receiving over 12 million future Americans between 1892 and 1954. In 1990, the once abandoned Ellis Island reopened to the public and became the country's primary museum devoted entirely to immigration. It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. During the boom of immigration in the early 1900s, Ellis Island became known as the "Island of Tears", which is perfectly describes it's double meaning. It became a joyful, "happy tear" place when people were accepted into the country to start new lives with new opportunities, but it also became a place of sadness when family members were rejected and deported back to their homeland. While going through the rooms of Ellis Island, you learn about the in-depth process of registration and becoming an American.
We picked up our audio book and began our tour through Ellis Island. The tour took you though the building as if you were an immigrant going through the process of immigrating to the United States. This included medical exams, workplace and financial requirements, legal questioning, and possible detention if your answers didn't seem legitimate. It was so interesting to learn about the process each person had to go through, and more specifically what my great-grandfather had to go through.
The highlight of my trip to Ellis Island was seeing my great-grandfather's name on The American Immigrant Wall of Honor. The wall is currently inscribed with over 700,000 names. It is a permanent exhibit of individual or family names, and is the only place in the United States where an individual can honor his or her family heritage at a National Monument.