by Bob Brooke
Knowing where ancestors entered this country can be a big help in locating their records. While a few immigrants here and there came through the odd door, most came through specified ports of entry. By tracking down the port of entry, there's an excellent chance that a genealogist will be able to find a copy of their records. By knowing where and approximately when they arrived, finding their records will be much easier.
The largest number of immigrants came through Ellis Island in New York. It's estimated that more than one out of every three most people arrived by boat. For the first 300 years of immigration, Americans can trace at least one ancestor back to New York. Before, during, and after the Ellis Island years a few other East Coast cities received a sizable number of immigrants.
In the 1800s, Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana, served as immigrant ports. For many years, Boston served as an entry place for Irish immigrants. Baltimore took in a substantial number of Germans. Philadelphia was the destination for many Italians and eastern Europeans.. Galveston, Texas, was an unusual but important destination for thousands of immigrants from eastern Europe in the early 1900s. And during the 1980s, refugees from the Caribbean island of Haiti entered the United States through Miami, Florida.
On the West Coast, San Francisco was the busiest boat arrival point for immigrants coming from Asia and the Pacific islands. Chinese and Japanese immigrants began arriving here in the latter part of the 19th century. Until 1965, restrictive laws put severe limits on the number of Asians entering the United States. Seattle and Los Angeles also received newcomers.
However, not everyone came by boat. Cities on the Mexican border like El Paso, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona have been entry points for millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans who walked, drove, or rode into the United States, particularly in the second half of this century. Up north, St. Albans, Vermont, and Detroit, Michigan, are among the checkpoints for those coming through Canada.
In some ways, immigration has changed a great deal over the past 25 years. If a family came to the United States since the 1960s, most of their paperwork, including their medical examinations, was done in the country of origin. The Department of Immigration and Naturalization learned this the hard way. With the tide of immigrants coming through Ellis Island, for instance, there were many infected with disease. These people had to be sent back home at the Government's expense.
Today, there's a good chance an immigrant will arrive by plane. The trip took hours, not days. And they can enter the United States in any of a hundred airports. However, there are three major cities that attract most immigrants today. New York is still probably the greatest entryway for foreigners coming to live in this country. Tens of thousands arrive from Europe, Asia, and South America every year. Many settle in the New York area and become citizens--more than 40,000 immigrants took the oath to become a citizen in New York City alone.
Then there's Miami, Florida, which has become the major entryway for immigrants from South America and the Caribbean. They've given Miami a new identity as an international city since more than half of all Miamians today were born outside the United States.
But another city appears ready to take over the moniker as the "Ellis Island of the 1990s"--Los Angeles, California. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have poured into Los Angeles. The greatest number come from Central America, especially Mexico. Many others are from the Philippines, and the former Soviet Union. In the 1980s, more immigrants became citizens in Los Angeles-about 60,000 a year-than in any other city in the United States