Ellis Island National Monument

Ellis Island National Monument

Your Ancestors

Was one of your ancestors an immigrant whose first step on American soil was at Ellis Island? Could your great-great-grandfather or grandmother have walked through these buildings in search of a new and better life? Or, have both sides of your family been in the United States for hundreds of years? It is likely that most of us would have trouble answering these questions because we don't have a great deal of historical information about our ancestors much beyond our grandparents.

For example, did you know that if you go back just six generations (that's about 180 years), you are directly descended from 126 people? Going back seven generations directly relates you to 252 people! That's a lot of relatives to keep track of. But a fun project is to create a family tree, a genealogy of your family that goes back to your great-grandparents. That's only 14 people. If you want to take on a real challenge, collect information about your great-great-grandparents as well. That's 30 people total. You might just find that somewhere in the generation of your great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents, one of your ancestors stood on Ellis Island and began a new life in a new country, leaving behind all that he or she had known as home.

A family tree records the names of your ancestors by generation. You may also want to collect and record the dates that were important in their lives. These can include their date of birth, graduation from high school or college, years of service in the armed forces, marriage, birth of children and date of death. The places where these major events happened are also important, so if you can find out where something occurred, all the better.

By learning about your own family history, you will get a better idea of who you are because you will know your ancestors better. You will gain an appreciation of their struggles and achievements as well as a greater respect for the beginnings of others. 

For information on Ellis Island immigration records, visit the America Family Immigration History Center at Ellis Island. For reservations, please call (212) 561-4500 or visit the website at www.ellisisland.org.