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Center takes Ellis Island experience to new level

Ellis Island has its own mystique; a mystique that emanates from history and from the worn floors, shiny handrails and walls made smooth by the passing of millions of immigrants.

Visitors to this historical site in U.S. history can search for names of immigrant ancestors or create multimedia family scrapbooks that can become heirlooms.
Visitors to this historical site in U.S. history can search for names of immigrant ancestors or create multimedia family scrapbooks that can become heirlooms. Photo: Photo by John L. Hart

Touring the facility that once held the hopes and fears of so many is to look into one aspect of what made America: a combination of harsh pragmatism represented by the rejection of the ill and the criminal, and, at the same time, a national concern for the immigrants' welfare, represented by tin plates upon which millions were fed while awaiting their inspections. The life-turning experiences that occurred on Ellis Island are now life-touching experiences for visitors.

Today, hundreds come daily to Ellis Island to see and touch and learn and feel. Those who visit the American Family Immigration History Center can extend their Ellis Island experience to one more level.

Some 30 search stations allow visitors to look at the records of their ancestors. Computer screens are comprised of yellowed and lined documents that serve as icons and preserve the feeling of history. Search stations are available for a $5 fee. The software asks for a name, and then soon asks for a narrower search, which is understandable considering the size of the database. When a name is located, a typed version of the ship's manifest can be called up. If preferred, the original can also be called up. These manifests, or ships' passenger lists, show family groups. All the information can be saved as a file.

Multimedia scrapbooking stations are also available for $45 per hour. At a station, a picture is taken of the person at the terminal, or family members, and saved for the scrapbook. An oral history can be dictated and saved. Then 10 images can be scanned from the user's collection and placed on pages of the book. Another dozen images from the Ellis Island files can be used. When the information from the search is added to the scrapbook, it can become a family heirloom.