Many of us think about all the immigrants who arrived in Ellis Island, Castle Garden, Philadelphia, Boston, and other ports of entries without thinking about those who were denied entry or about those who were allowed to enter and then were later departed. In fact, not everyone was allowed to enter. Ellis Island was sometimes known as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island” because roughly 2% of the would-be immigrants were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage.
Immigrants were denied entry because of disease, lack of money, or the lack of nearby relatives who would take responsibility for them. Immigrants denied entry could appeal to a Special Inquiry Board, which granted them entry if an immigrant aid society or other party would post their bond. Statistics for other ports of entry are not well documented but probably were similar to the Ellis Island numbers. Perhaps a greater resource for genealogy purposes is the records of those who were admitted and yet later departed for a number of reasons.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Historian Marian Smith will hold an online “Records Found” webinar on Thursday, May 22, 2014, at 1:00 pm Eastern Time: