Before Ellis Island: Entering America Through Castle Garden 1855-1890

Since the founding of America, millions of people hoping for a brighter future left their home countries and immigrated to the United States. The number of immigrants increased dramatically after the Civil War with nearly 12 million arriving between 1870-1900. More than 70% of all immigrants entered through New York City. Castle Garden opened in 1855 as the primary immigration processing center and operated as such until Ellis Island’s opening in 1892 (though from 1890-1892, the center was moved to the U.S. Barge Office). We’ve scoured our newspaper archives to find the stories behind some of those immigrants’ arrivals.

Castle Garden Opens August 1, 1855 as “Emigrant Landing Depot”

The Arrival Experience: This story, published in 1855 described the arrival experience for immigrants. They registered their names, recorded the amount of money they carried, and were shown to a bathhouse where up to 24 bathed at the same time.

The Boston Globe – September 6, 1884

Children Traveling Alone: Like many families, the Slinsbys’ couldn’t afford passage for the entire family at the same time. In 1884, Maggie and Mary, 9 and 10-years-old, arrived at Castle Garden with their names painted on heavy cardboard signs attached with a “profusion of green ribbons” to their bodies. They were reunited with their parents in Ohio. In 1887, Irish immigrants living in Cleveland were finally able to send for their children who had been staying with a grandmother. Castle Garden sent a telegraph to their parents informing them that after a rough and stormy journey, the two children, ages 9 and 11, had arrived safely. In this clipping, the Superintendent at Castle Garden tagged three children after their arrival and shipped them to their father who was living in Chicago. This 1887 clipping tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who arrived at Castle Garden from Ireland. Her mother and two brothers left her in the care of nuns until they could afford to pay for her passage to join them six years later. This final clipping tells the story of a mother desperately searching for her daughters after they arrived at Castle Garden. We’re so anxious to learn what became of them, but we can’t find any follow-up stories (maybe one of you genealogical sleuths can help).

New-York Tribune – June 14, 1884

Beware of Swindlers: Sometimes unscrupulous individuals preyed upon new immigrants. Language barriers, poverty, and fear left many immigrants vulnerable. In this clipping, a swindler sold railroad tickets to several immigrants who later learned the tickets were fraudulent. This sad story tells the tale of an immigrant who showed up at Castle Garden hoping to find a way back to Hungary after he lost his fortune of $500 in America. 

Reunion with Loved Ones: In 1890, a woman from Russia arrived at Castle Garden to reunite with her sweetheart who arrived two years earlier and sent money for her passage. The journey took more than a month and her funds ran out. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, she finally made her way to Minnesota. Read her story here. In another instance, a Prussian man prepared for the arrival of his wife and five children in 1897. He rented a home in Maryland and purchased some furniture, but sadly suffered a fatal fall just hours after they reunited. This final clipping tells the story of Michael O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, who left his family to seek his fortune in America. He sent letters and money until one day when communication suddenly ceased. His worried wife and four children sailed for America, arriving at Castle Garden in 1878. The determined woman searched for O’Brien, only to learn that he had remarried and had another child. He undoubtedly had some explaining to do.

Do you have ancestors that arrived at Castle Garden? Use historic newspapers to learn about their experiences. Search today!

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46 thoughts on “Before Ellis Island: Entering America Through Castle Garden 1855-1890

  1. My English grandparents came from Birmingham, England. Grandpa came in 1887 and grandma came in 1889 and their first child was born in 1890. My mother was born in 1899 when my grandfather got his Naturalization papers.
    Grandpa was William Short born in 1858 and grandma in 1868.

  2. My great-great grandfather came apparently through Castle Garden on 12 May 1849 on the ARIEL according to a record I found from

  3. Great timing! I am looking for stories of how immigrant aid societies helped (or failied to help) new arrivals. These will become part of an exhibit open to the public. If you have a story in your family, please send it to me:

  4. My grandmother and her twin sister arrived from Germany in 1883 and I have not been able to find them on the passenger lists. Their passports mention September for leaving from Germany so assume that is when they left but can not find either of the girls.

    1. May i ask, which lists were you searching in? I’m am searching for my great grand mother’s family who arrived around 1850’s or so and I haven’t been able to find anything. It seems they may have come from Germany or Danmark. I’d appreciate any info on lists.

      1. Refer to research wiki. See under Germany-emigration and immigration. Explains what records are available. Unfortunately majority of German emigration was from Bremen and the records from 1847-1870 have been lost and only about 20-25% have been recreated from other sources. I’m in the same boat. Have found a few but most are gone. Other ports were used. Keep looking and check out the FS research wiki if you haven’t yet.

    2. My great-grandmother came from Switzerland by way of Antwerp, Belgium on the ship SS Pennland (steerage class). She and her 5 children (including my grandfather, age 13) arrived in NY on December 22, 1883 during a snowstorm. They traveled by train to New Baden, TX where my great-grandfather had purchased land and had begun to farm. Oh, how I admire her for what it took to do that! Among my treasures is a handmade Battenburg tablecloth she brought with her.

    3. Question: dotti dineen where did the dineen’s come from. Tracking these families

  5. My granda Charles Walter Lane Also Known as Otto walter Carl Lane, he was born in Bremen Germany Charles swam across the Rhine River to come to the United States Through Ellis Island to get his freedom and Married Martha Van Nortwick.

  6. My granda Charles Walter Lane Also Known as Otto walter Carl Lane, he was born in Bremen Germany Charles swam across the Rhine River to come to the United States Through Ellis Island to get his freedom and Married Martha Van Nortwick.

  7. Fact check: Castle Garden received immigrants until 1890, not 1892 when Ellis Island opened. In the interim, a facility called the Barge Office was used.

    1. It mentions the Barge Office in the article. Are you saying that is correct or incorrect?

      1. The original text did not mention the Barge Office. The current version is correct. Like Castle Clinton, the Barge Office was at the Battery.

  8. That’s a sweet story but not all persons came to the States under voluntary matters.

    1. I know African tribes would conquer other tribes and sold their African brothers and sisters into slave trade. And other cultures came over as indentured servants. But most immigrants came to American with dreams and unknown challenges of starting something great for themselves and their families. These legal immigrants made the choice to leave everything they knew to begin a new. The bravery it had to take! We all have a story to tell. How we live our life by great character determines how we are treated!

      1. “And other cultures came over as indentured servants. ” At least the indentured servants can trace their records and genealogy via prison records, ship, church, baptisms etc. The point here is that those who arrived as a result of slavery have no such records. Period. Something more needs to be done to stop washing over the facts, acknowledge and own up. Provide a helpful resource channel through DNA to trace the African tribe, or village perhaps. Not just stop at the USA, Caribbean or South America. Right now there is absolutely nothing and no organisation is offering any assistance to help make tracing where these slaves originated.

        1. If something more really needs to be done then YOU spearhead the cause. YOU raise the money. It’s not up to anyone else to find out where ancestors came from. That’s how things get started, when someone wants something bad enough to do something about it. Step up.

        2. As far as I know there are genetic tests that can identify regions at the very least, for African DNA. Watch “African American Lives” by Henry Louis Gates jr, there are ways to trace this genetically. He traced Oprah’s DNA to a couple villages in one small area of west Africa. He said “genetically, any of these ladies could be your sister or cousin.” Oprah was nonplussed because she had hoped she was Zulu, which was very unlikely. It was I think Chris Tucker who had very strong genetic imprint of Angola which was a less common but still sometimes origin of African Americans.
          There are some DNA tests specifically for African ancestry, I believe one company is called just that (African Ancestry). Even as a European American with only a trace of African via the Carribean, the standard tests were able to pick up Senegal-Gambia, Cameroon, and Yemen-Somalia area. I imagine the African specific tests would be fairly good by now and if you tested you would get notices up updates to your results as the data was refined etc over time. Check the DNA adviser website of Richard Hill (author of “finding family”), he lists all the DNA tests, the sale cycles, etc including tests specific to African American, native American, and other groups.

          1. Update – the African Ancestry company is a scam. Henry Louis Gates jr started his own high quality test company African DNA but unfortunately has closed/ended the company already. It looks like 23&me haa some details for African ancestry, as well as Ancestry DNA has some breakdown. I believe a free upload of these test results can be done with MyHeritage.

      2. So if how we are treated is because of our character( your words) than slaves were treated badly and were put into bondage because of their character? And going by your words again the Holocaust was because of the ” character ” of……such garbage and hateful of an idea

      3. My Great Grandmother’ came from Ireland at 17 yrs old as an indentured servant. I don’t know what year. But my Mom knew her and grew up to her.

  9. My great great grandparents, James Arthur and Mary Jane(Weir) arrived in New York City (apparently at Castle Gardens) on August 8, 1866 from County Tyrone Ireland on the ship Chancellor with their six children and settled near Galva Illinois. I did not know about Castle Gardens until this article, so am looking forward to researching it.

  10. I am Davydenko Sergey Vladimirovich from Russia,Novosibirsk city, I am 36 years old, looking for relatives in the UK; my maternal grandfather Pavel Danilovich Petukhov approximately born in 1918, he lived in the village of Bazhovo (Novoaltaysk), in the second world war he served in the railway troops, then moved with his family to Novosibirsk, worked on the railway;my maternal grandmother Ekaterina Petukhova (before marriage Klevakina) born in 1929, she was born in Yekaterinburg, lived in Kazakhstan,then in the village of Bazhovo (Novoaltaysk), then moved to Novosibirsk, worked in accounting; my paternal grandfather Davydenko Ivan Yakovlevich, lived in the village of Lokot, then moved to the city of Gornyak (near Kazakhstan), worked in a chain of cinemas; my paternal grandmother Davydenko Olga Nikolaevna, she came from a village near Novosibirsk, then moved to Gornyak in the Altai territory, worked as a zoo technician. E mail me

  11. Where did they enter before Castle Garden? My GGG grandfather came around 1840-1849.

    1. My GG grandfather and family came in 1849. I don’t believe that there were any facilities at that time period. Ships arrived at docks and then you were on your own. If anyone has additional information about that time period, please share.

      1. Prior to Castle Garden (1855), there was no immigrant processing center at New York. However, passengers
        and crew were inspected onboard by a local health official and if any were infected with a contagious disease, all
        passengers and crew were sent to the Quarantine Station on Staten Island in New York City. The Quarantine Station, built in 1799, was a compound of hospitals surrounded by a high wall in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island.
        Starting in 1820, after a ship passengers and crew passed the health inspection, U.S. Federal Law required the Captains, of vessels arriving from a foreign country, to include a list of passengers on the Ships Manifest and provide it to the U.S. Customs Service when the Ship docked.

      2. During the 1820s-1860s, many of the immigrants arrived in New York on Packet Ships. The most prominent Packet Ship Lines were: Black Ball Line, Red Star Line, Swallow Tail Line, Dunham & Dimon). These shipping lines had designated docks on the lower east side of Manhattan on the East River. See lower NYC map noting Dock Numbers & Packet Ship Lines on the following Wiki page:

  12. It is very difficult to find arrivals of Irish families into Philadelphia in the mid 1800s. We were told the family arrived separately father, children, then mother.

    1. I always thought my grandmothers family arrived in Philadelphia in 1905 and could never get any information until one day Baltimore popped up and that is where they arrived. The old German reformed Church in Baltimore helped arriving immigrants also.

      1. Do you know if there is a comprehensive list somewhere for all the ports in the 1800’s?

      2. They may have been German Palatines. Many books have been written about them.

  13. My 15th great grandparents arrived in the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the mid-1600’s from England, supposedly with Lord Baltimore (the 2nd). No entry facilities then. You were just dumped on the shore, apparently.

    1. So how do you know for sure that your 15th great grandparents arrived in MD in the mid 1600’s?
      according to my DNA my ancestors all arrived in the mid atlantic Region in MD, DE ,PA and I can trace them back to late 1700’s but cannot verify prior to Revolutionary War with factual information

    1. I have tried to search on the Castle Garden website as suggested, but their computer must not be working because all I get is computer language and symbols and the comment “no name in required field”. I have tried 5 times. Any ideas?

  14. Hi I am from the swingler family tree. My grandfather and father helped a lot of families in 1800s
    And I have maybe familys in USA and also candian
    My great grandfather jessie gave work to many people and families who needed it.
    If there is anyone out there
    Swingler name.
    I be greatful to know.
    Mrs erica fontanie

  15. At least the indentured servants can trace their records and genealogy via prison records, ship, church, baptisms etc. The point here is that those who arrived as a result of slavery have no such records. Period. Something more needs to be done to stop washing over the facts, acknowledge and own up. Provide a helpful resource channel through DNA to trace the African tribe, or village perhaps. Not just stop at the USA, Caribbean or South America. Right now there is absolutely nothing and no organisation is offering any assistance to help make tracing where these slaves originated. We have a story too of endurance, strength courage, preservation and survival.

    1. J E see my response to your other reply. Genetic geneaology has come a long way in being able to discern ethnic groups and regions, and continues to improve. It looks like the African Ancestry test is a scam to be avoided, and the African DNA test by Henry Louis Gates jr is unfortunately no longer available. It looks like 23&me may be the best test to use at this time, according to review by Richard Hill. The results of the 23&me test can be uploaded to other sites for free or a small fee, to get analysis through those databases as well.

  16. In reference to the Worried Mother who was waiting for her three girls to arrive: I located a family of one Albert Mocharny on the 1920 federal census. Living in East Chicago, Indiana; Albert, 47, immigrated from Austria in 1905 and was working as a janitor. His wife Mary 49, also immigrated from Austria in 1905. A daughter Mary, 16, immigrated from Budapest (as was carefully specified on the census) in 1908. A son Joseph, 13, born in Indiana.

    Further: marriage records for the aforementioned daughter and son, provide the maiden name of their mother Klusa. The son Joseph married Mary Shoner. The daughter Mary married Martus Ratajczyk. The son Joseph married Mary Shoner. His WWII draft card gives a birthdate of 11 Jul 1906. The Florida death index states Joseph died in Sarasota on 29 Sep 1998.

    Unfortunately, my stretch of online research ends here, but what I have found leads me strongly to believe that this is the family unit in question.

  17. Sadly, all of the Castle Garden (1855-1890) and U.S. Barge Office (1890-1892) Immigration Records, along with some (1892-1897) of the Ellis Island Immigration Records were destroyed during a fire, on June 15, 1897, at the original Ellis Island Immigration Center building. The building was totally destroyed by the fire because it was constructed with resin-soaked wood. The second Ellis Island Immigration Center building was constructed between August 1898 to December 1900 and opened on Dec. 17, 1900. The following weblink describes the Ellis Island fire from old newspaper stories (NY Times, New York World, etc.). It also includes historical information about Castle Garden with photos and sketches of the building.
    The only information (passenger lists, etc.) regarding the arrival of passenger ships in New York City prior to the 1897 Ellis Island fire are included on copies of Ships Manifests which were kept at the U.S. Customs House in NYC. and Ancestry have indexes and images of this information.

  18. My German ancestors came through Castle Garden in April of 1863. They went to Crawford County, Ohio before settling in Blackford County, Indiana.

  19. If I was in Urbana I would see if I could look it up but here is the paper and date for possible follow up to the 2 little girls story…

    Urbana Citizen And Gazette
    Thursday , September 25th, 1884

    ler Why, Margaret and Mary Slingsby, sisters Came over in…of Mrs Margaret Claybaugh, anther of Rev Mr C, who died at the residence of her son in law, Hon R P Davidson in Lafay ette, Ind , Sunday, September 14, in the ly extrayagence with which;the| 79th year of her age Mrs, Claybangh, Orders by Mail will Receive PipptfpWDn i r 3 r r t 7 t ;, ; Legal Nptipe I iJbnery pees, Tf ‘S, , 1 Court ot Com Pleas of desperadoes who infes the river At that per; od a stone wall ‘ s , WM ‘srec’ted abbnttheciy for protection, telligent man, whose manners sh|owed ih transports reacbed4befr farthest no’hlng of the…

    Urbana Citizen And Gazette UrbanaOhioThursday , September 25th, 1884 Page : 1
    the link to it at the website:

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