Immigrants’ First Pictures Reveal What It Means To Be American

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Ellis Island Memorial

Look below at the faces of these beautiful individuals who passed through Ellis Island, NY, USA and went on to build America through their hopes and dreams. Every one of us in the US is descended from immigrants; let us not forget that we have them to thank for planting the seeds of the harvest that we enjoy today.

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About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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76 Responses to Immigrants’ First Pictures Reveal What It Means To Be American

  1. Alice Pratt says:

    How true, Eliza. More people should try harder to be a better friend and to respect fellow humans.

  2. MK says:

    Wonderful set of images, fascinating faces. I see people who I would like for neighbors, who I’d like to have a chat with over coffee. Thanks for this post.

  3. Trini Lind says:

    Looove these old photos!! My great grandfather moved to New York when he was only 18, he took part in building the first skyscrapers! But he returned to Norway ten years later for some mysterious reason he always refused to talk about….but his name is definitely in those records on Ellis Island. 😊

    • Eliza Waters says:

      How cool is that? Thanks for sharing your grandfather’s story (with a bit of mystery to it). Suppose he had his heart broken?

      • Trini Lind says:

        Yeah, that is what I think too, because of course he wouldn’t have shared that with his wife and family. But I also know, from watching documentaries, that the life of the construction workers in New York in those days were just horrible! I mean, they lived like rats with hardly any pay, and my great grandfather came from this idyllic beautiful little island in Norway, so maybe he was ashamed of how he had been forced to live. It could also be a mix of both, because I know he started out as a farm hand on a pig farm, and then went to the city to work on the skyscrapers.

      • Eliza Waters says:

        A great legacy. Maybe he witnessed a terrible tragedy and realized he was safer and happier back home? One can speculate endlessly!

  4. We may come from different parts of the world but we all have a common thread that connects us to the whole. We are not separated or alone. Wonderful reminders and photos Eliza 😀

  5. Anne says:

    It is important to be reminded of that ‘endless Human Migration’: so many families in this country have been saddened in recent years by the departure of their children for Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the United States – yet most of us are descended from people who left some of those places to make a new life in Africa. The wheel keeps turning.

  6. Jim Ruebush says:

    Great pictures. Thanks for posting them.

  7. Kris P says:

    It pains me greatly that a nation of immigrants isn’t showing more respect for the human rights of today’s immigrants (or the Native Americans, like the Standing Rock Sioux). I’d love to see this memorial one day. My grandparents on both sides passed through Ellis Island.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      I share that pain as well. So many passed through EI and it is a shame that the collective seems to have forgotten their roots/ancestors. We owe the early immigrants a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made for future generations’ better life. And that is just as true today. They enrich our country in so many ways.
      Ellis is definitely a must-see, quite moving.

  8. Deb says:

    Thank you so much for the photos of all the beautiful immigrants……our world ancestors.
    I feel blessed they helped make this country what is.

  9. Such eye opening photographs! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  10. Well said, Eliza. It seems your President has forgotten his own origins

  11. Sue Vincent says:

    We’re all mongrels these days… and that is no bad thing.

  12. Great way to share your message–thank you

  13. Laurie Graves says:

    I wish there were a “Love” button for this post because I sure do love it. Gives me hope to know there are people like you, Eliza, in this country. It seems to me there is only one race—the human race.

  14. Christina says:

    It’s so sad that both our nations seems to be closing their doors to immigrants. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. I really loved this Eliza. Thank you for thinking to post this.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Kim. It really helps put a face and connection to the term ‘immigrant.’ It’s not about a distant ‘them’ but about a here and now ‘us.’

  16. My paternal grandparents came through Ellis Island from Italy. So, that part of me is only second generation American. LOL The other half has been here longer. The thing is, they each came to a strange country, alone, young, and not knowing anything about the customs, or rules, and yet my dad, who was born here, couldn’t speak a word of Italian (they never spoke Italian and didn’t have the slightest accent), and was completely American. I don’t know how they ended up in Chicago. We know nothing of their past, since they would never talk about it. One day my mother and I were walking down the street and she stopped to talk to a man raking his front lawn. They were friendly and chatted for awhile. When we left I asked who he was and she said it was my grandmother’s brother. I couldn’t believe it. No one ever told me there were relatives anywhere. Apparently, there were sisters as well, but no one talked about anything, even if I asked. I don’t actually know anything about either side of my family, although I did meet some of my mom’s relatives and I have a few photographs. That side of my family is Scandinavian. When my grandparents came here their first names were changed at Ellis Island. This is a wonderful post Eliza. Thank you.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thank you for sharing your connections, Gigi. Many of us have fragments of similar stories. Ellis Island has a website with a lot of information. I hear that is a great resource for learning about far-flung relatives, past and present. I have family members who are interested in such and share some cool stories. It turns out we have relatives all over!

  17. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Your words really grabbed me, Eliza, and I really looked at each photograph deeply. People need to stop fighting and to remember YES we are all from immigrants and in order to get anything accomplished we must do so together in Love and Brotherhood. Stay strong, dear friend, in these tumultuous times. Look upon Love, Peace, Beauty, and God. And breathe. (((HUGS))) ❤

  18. FlowerAlley says:

    Thank you so much. I loved looking at their faces and clothes.

  19. FlowerAlley says:

    I also wondered if any of these people were my relatives. Hmmmmm?

  20. Alice Pratt says:

    If you know of a Church of Latter Day Saints, you can research geneaology records there.

  21. Julie says:

    We visited Ellis Island some years ago and found it a really moving experience. And recently watched a documentary on DT a couple of weeks ago and his own roots are german – his latest tweet 19 mins ago, (I do not follow him btw – its just come up on my news feed).
    “Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision”
    Heaven help us Eliza.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Sigh (I find myself doing that A LOT lately) and I write my congressman and senators almost daily. One of which is filing impeachment paperwork – I love that woman!

  22. Wonderful photos Eliza! Thanks for sharing the rich heritage we share as the descendants of immigrants. This reminded me of a museum exhibit I saw advertised a couple of years ago in which the stories of immigrants were told through the belongings they brought with them to this country. I think it was called “what they brought”. I wasn’t able to travel to it, but it sounded fascinating and moving. Blessings! Sarah

  23. Enough said Eliza. Excellent.

  24. Judie Sigdel says:

    What a beautiful post. I love the pics of the immigrants. My maternal grandparents came through Ellis Island. ❤

  25. Robin says:

    Wonderful pictures, Eliza. Thank you for sharing them. 🙂

  26. What a beautiful salute! The only people who have the right to gripe about immigrants are the Native Americans. After all, they were the ones who had their land taken away. So sad that it’s still happening.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Technically, even Native Americans, who sometimes call themselves First Peoples, are immigrants from Asia. And if we go back far enough, the Genome Project concluded all humans can trace lineage back to the Rift Valley in Africa. See, we really are all connected and One. 🙂

      • And from Africa! Interesting. So the question is: who were the first people to arrive on U.S. soil? And was anyone there before them? This is one of those questions that drives me squirrely, like: if the universe didn’t exist, what would there be? And would anything know?

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Good questions! Your teachers must have loved you! 🙂

  27. Gracefully Global says:

    Really interesting group of photos, Eliza. I really like this. I’m setting it up to share on my Twitter account tomorrow morning. 🙂

  28. LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD says:

    Thanks for a lovely post. And you are so right about what we all owe them.

  29. Robbie says:

    Mine came over on the Mayflower-LOL-and some later, but you are right..great post!

  30. Very thoughtful post during a very confusing time. Well done!

  31. Bun Karyudo says:

    It’s fascinating to look through those old photographs, Eliza. In countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, hostility toward immigrants seems particularly foolish. We live in a world with borders, which means nations are always going to have some kind of immigration policy. I’d like to think, though, that these policies are carefully considered, humane and based on more than mere prejudice and unreasoning fear.

  32. Joanne says:

    I love seeing the faces of people from the past and try to imagine the lives they lived and their hopes for the future. And Bun Karyudo’s insightful comment regarding the hostilities in some countries, including Australia, towards immigrants is spot-on. And it doesn’t stop with immigrants here either, there is constant debate and ‘blame’ over the colonisation of the country. It’s well past time to move forward, to get over the grievances of the past and give credit, as you have here, for the forethought and bravery of all of our ancestors.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Hear, hear! Thank you, Joanne, you are so right, we need to get over it and move forward, the past is past. Let’s work together to create a brighter future. ❤

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