TRACING the FAMILY 'S  Tracing the Family's Footsteps !! FOOTSTEPS
...........TO A NEW LIFE !

This site is dedicated to all our family ancestors who came to America for a better life. 
They came from Italy, Poland, Ireland, and England, and left us a heritage to be proud of.

In his book "A Nation of Immigrants", John F. Kennedy writes, "There were probably as many reasons for coming to America as there were people who came. It was a highly individual decision." Historians agree that three social forces were the chief motivators for the mass migration to America: religious persecution, political oppression, and economic hardship. It is, however, almost impossible to relate such a combination of overwhelming circumstances to the experience of one immigrant, or even one family.

They Came to AMERICA - Part 1


Coming to America was a major turning point for the immigrants. For some it was joyous, others adventurous and for many a heart-wrenching experience. The decision to come to America meant leaving ones homeland, friends and all too often family loved ones, knowing oftentimes they would never return or see them again. It meant the end of one life and the start of a new one, filled with hopes and dreams. The practice of one member of a family going to America first, then saving to bring others over was common. From 1900 to 1910, almost 95 percent of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were joining either family or friends. Sometimes the father would come alone  to see if the streets really were paved with the "gold of opportunity" before sending for his wife and family. Sometimes the eldest son immigrated first, and then sent for the next oldest, until the entire family was in America. Often those who arrived first would send a prepaid ticket back home to the next family member. It is believed that in 1890 between 25 and 50 percent of all immigrants arriving in America possessed prepaid tickets. In 1901, between 40 and 65 percent came either on prepaid tickets, or with money sent to them from the United States.

The mode of transportation was on modern steamships. The cost was so high that many families sold everything they owned for the price of a ticket, but many made the decision to make their dreams a reality. Steerage tickets were sold without space reservations, the shipping lines had agencies in the United States whose ticket agents traveled throughout parts of Europe, in towns and villages selling tickets. By 1900, in addition to buying a ticket it was necessary to secure a passport to enter the US. The predominate shipping lines were Cunard,  White Star and Fabre. The White Star line is widely known because of the ill-fated Titanic. Cunard and White Line merged in 1935, and Cunard is still in business today.

Their journey often started with traveling over country roads, mountains by foot, cart, and train to reach the port of departure. Once there, all documents and paperwork had to be reviewed and sailing dates verified. Before boarding the steamships, after the 1893 immigration law went into effect, passengers had to answer 29 questions, which were recorded on the manifest. They were also screened verbally as to their background. Questions such as, did they possess $30, were anarchists, ever institutionalized, etc? Many potential passengers were housed in quarantine for up to a week and observed for any physical or mental disease. Anything suspicious would warrant them being detained. The steamships maintained passenger information, carefully recording name, country of origin, ages, family orientation, occupation, etc. They were held accountable for all passengers for all medical examinations were done by the seaport medical examiners. Disinfecting and vaccinations were done at the port. Many immigrants who were unable to afford expensive tickets resided in the overcrowded lower decks know as steerage.


Only steerage passengers were processed at Ellis Island.  Steerage was enormously profitable for steamship companies. The average cost of a ticket was only $30, larger ships could hold from 1,500 to 2,000 immigrants, netting a profit of $45,000 to $60,000 for a single one-way voyage. The cost to feed a single immigrant was only about 60 cents a day!

For most immigrants, especially early arrivals, the experience of steerage was like a nightmare. (At one time, the average passenger mortality rate was 10 percent per voyage.) The conditions were so crowded, so dismally dark, so unsanitary, so foul smelling, that they were the single most important cause of America's early immigration laws. Unfortunately, the laws were almost impossible to enforce; steerage conditions continued to remain deplorable almost beyond belief.

As late as 1911, in a report to President William H. Taft, the United States Immigration Commission said of steerage: "Imagine a large room, perhaps seven feet in height, extending the entire breadth of the ship and about one-third of its length. This room is filled
with a framework of iron pipes, forming a double tier of six-by-two-feet berths, with only sufficient space left to serve as aisles or passageways. Such a compartment will sometimes accommodate as many as three hundred passengers and it duplicated in other parts of the ship and on other decks. "The open deck space reserved for steerage passengers is usually very limited, and situated in the worst part of the ship subject to the most violent motion, to the dirt from the stacks and the odors from the hold and galleys.. The only provisions for eating are frequently shelves or benches along the sides or in the passages of sleeping compartments. Dining rooms are rare and if found are often shared with berths installed along the walls. Toilets and washrooms are completely inadequate; salt water only is available. "The ventilation is almost always inadequate, and the air soon becomes foul. The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of not too clean bodies, the reek of food and the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere of the steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it.... Most immigrants lie in their berths for most of the voyage, in a stupor caused by the foul air. The food often repels them... It is almost impossible to keep personally clean. All of these conditions are naturally aggravated by the crowding."

Due to the extreme crowding and the frequent lack of food, many immigrants were struck by illness. The trip would take over a week or more depending on the weather. Their endurance prevailed despite rumors about life in America, combined with stories about rejections and deportations at Ellis Island. They rehearsed answering the immigration inspectors' questions, and spent their time learning the new language. At trip’s end, most were physically, mentally, and emotionally tired, but all knew they had just completed one more step to bring them closer to the New World.


Medical inspectors boarded incoming ships in the quarantine area at the entrance to the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. The quarantine examination was conducted aboard ship and reserved for first - or second-class cabin passengers. U.S. citizens were exempt from the examination. Cabin passengers who failed inspection would have to pass through Ellis Island for additional medical checks. All steerage passengers were examined at the island.

After the visiting medical inspectors climbed down ladders to their waiting cutter, the ship finally moved north through the Narrows leading to Upper New York Bay and into the harbor, in clear view was the Statue of Liberty. Just beyond the statue, about a half-mile to the northwest, was Ellis Island.

After the ship had docked in Manhattan, the passengers were released to New York. Meanwhile the steerage passengers poured across the pier to a waiting area. Each wore nametags with the individual's manifest number written in large letters. The immigrants were then assembled in-groups of 30, according to manifest letters, and were packed on the top decks of barges, while their baggage was piled on the lower decks. Next, they would arrive at the island's landing slip and be led to the Main Building 's large reception room. Here, at last, immigrants would take the final step in their journey to freedom in America.

The first American, the immigrants would meet would be the ‘interpreter’ at the screening process. Their patience and skill frequently helped save an immigrant from deportation. The average interpreter spoke six languages, but a dozen languages (including dialects) were not uncommon. The record for a single interpreter was 15 languages. One interpreter was Fiorello LaGuardia, who would later become the famous mayor of New York City responsible for cleaning up the corruption of Tammany Hall. He worked at Ellis Island for an annual salary of $1,200 from 1907 to 1910. Interpreters led groups through the main doorway and directed them up a steep stairway to the Registry Room. Although they did not realize it, the immigrants were already taking their first test: a doctor stood at the top of the stairs watching for signs of lameness, heavy breathing that might indicate a heart condition, or "bewildered gazes" that might be symptomatic of a mental condition.

As each immigrant passed, a doctor, with an interpreter at his side, would examine the immigrant's face, hair, neck, and hands. The doctor held a piece of chalk. On about 2 out of every 10 or 11 immigrants who passed he would scrawl a large white letter; the letter meant the immigrant was to be detained for further medical inspection.

Should an immigrant be suspected of mental defects: 
X - was marked high on the front of the right shoulder
a plain X - lower on the right shoulder indicated suspicion of a deformity or disease
X within a circle - meant some definite symptom had been detected
B - indicated possible back problems
C - conjunctivitis
Ct - trachoma
E - eyes
F - face
Ft - feet
D - goiter
H - heart
K - hernia
L - lameness
N - neck
P - physical and lungs
Pg - pregnancy
S - senility
Sc - scalp

If an immigrant was marked, he or she continued with the process and then was directed to rooms set aside for further examination. Sometimes whole groups would be made to bathe with disinfectant solutions before being cleared this was done for the simply fact many were unable to bathe during the crossing. The next group of doctors was the dreaded "eye men." They were looking for symptoms of trachoma, an eye disease that caused blindness and even death. (This disease was the reason for more than half of the medical detentions, and its discovery meant certain deportation.) Rumors of this particular inspection terrified many an immigrant, but it was over in a few seconds, as the doctor tilted the immigrant's head back and swiftly snapped back the upper eyelids over a small instrument (actually a hook for buttoning shoes).

If immigrants had any of the diseases prescribed by the immigration laws, or were too ill or feeble-minded to earn a living, they would be deported. Sick children
ages 12 or older were sent back to Europe alone and were released in the port from, which they had come. Children younger than 12 had to be accompanied by a parent. There were many tearful scenes as families with a sick child decided who would go and who would stay. Immigrants who passed their medical exams were now ready to take the final test from the "primary line" inspector, seated on a high stool with the ship's manifest on a desk in front of him and an interpreter at his side. This questioning process was designed to verify the 29 items of information contained on the manifest. Since each "primary line" inspector had only about two minutes in which to decide whether each immigrant was "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to land," nearly all of the immigrants received "curt nods of approval" and were handed landing cards. Most passed the test. (Only two percent of the immigrants seeking refuge in America would fail to be admitted.)


The last step was to the Money Exchange. Here they exchanged their gold, silver, and paper money for American dollars; exchange rate based on the day's official rates posted on a blackboard.

The immigrants traveled onto cities or towns beyond New York City, via the railroad ticket office. There, a dozen agents collectively sold as many as 25 tickets a minute on the busiest days. Immigrants could wait in areas marked for each independent railroad line in the ferry terminal.

When the time was nearing for their train’s departure, they would be ferried on barges to the train terminals in Jersey City or Hoboken.  Immigrants going to New England went on the ferry to Manhattan to the rocky shores of New England, others on trains enroute to the Great Plains of the Midwest or the vineyards and orange groves of California. Prior to their departure, they made  arrangements  for their trunks, stored in the Baggage room, to be sent on to their final destinations.  With their admittance cards, tickets, and box lunches in hand, the immigrants' journey to and through Ellis Island was complete and, they all finally heard the words,

 " Welcome to America "

22 International Channel, The " Ellis Island: Through America's Gateway"
 Unknown  Publication Date (August 1999)
"The Cunard Line" Unknown Publication Date (August 3, 1999)
24 Frank J. Coppa "Ellis Island" World Book Encyclopedia Multiple Editors. Chicago;
 World Book, Inc. 1993.  pp. 224, Volume E

 DePaola Coat of Arms

On Ships They Came 

 They Came to America  Immigrants Living in America  Italians in America   

Dad in World War II


Up ] DePaola COA ] ItalianNames-English Meanings ] Genealogy Awards ]

Date of  last revision: 10/18/16 04:25:27 PM.