Thursday 1 September 2016

Ellis Island: Portrait of America

"Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Ellis Island courtesy

At least 100 million Americans can trace their roots to an ancestor who came to America via Ellis Island.  At the station's peak, 3,000 to 5,000 new immigrants arrived daily.   Augustus F. Sherman, who worked at the immigration station from 1892 to 1925, photographed at least 100 of these immigrants.   While most of the recent arrivals came through the immigration relatively quickly, the subjects of Sherman's photographs were usually detainees, "waiting for money, travel tickets, or someone to collect the from the island."  

While Sherman was a registry clerk and not a professional photographer, in his free time he would get out his old box camera, perch it atop a giant tripod and start snapping photographs of the immigrants.  Highly gifted, Sherman asked many of them to pose for portraits, in which he encouraged them to wear their national dress, giving us a flavour of their culture.  While 98% were accepted and remained in the United States, 2% were rejected, due to medical reasons or otherwise, and were deported back to their country of origin.  

These photographs were published in National Geographic in 1907 and were also displayed in the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Federal Immigration Service. 

Note:  For more information, read "The Ghosts of Ellis Island" at


Russian family arrives at Ellis Island courtesy 

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