Welcome to our fifth installment, E is for Ellis Island, as part of our newest series called ABC’s of American History. Today’s post was compiled by Rebecca Reid from Line upon Line Learning. She is a homeschooling mom of 2.
In 1921 and 1922, Roko and Sabina Benac were living in poverty in what was then Hungary and what is today Croatia. Roko was able to get work in Chicago, so the family decided to immigrate. At this point, Sabina was expecting a child in a few months. The young married couple decided that Sabina must wait behind. Roko continued on to Chicago ahead of the family.
On May 29, 1923, 29-year-old Sabina and 10-month-old William arrived at Ellis Island, ready to meet Roko in Chicago, where he had settled in March of the year before.
William was my grandfather, and he was one of the last to enter from Eastern Europe before the U.S. initiated restrictions on immigration in 1924. Although many fewer immigrant entered the country through Ellis Island after that year, before it was closed in 1954, Ellis Island had been the first stopping point for over 12 million immigrants to America in it opened in 1892.
Studying about Ellis Island is important because it was a landing spot for so many different people. Learning about the blend of cultures that make up America is an important part of understanding the early 1900s. Cultural enclaves appeared in cities around the country, and the traditions and language may have been passed down through the generations.
Here are some ideas for where to look for ideas on learning about Ellis Island.
Websites, Lesson Ideas, and Related Media
Official National Parks site for Ellis Island. Plan a trip or learn about the site. Photos and other multimedia are also included. Click on “For Kids” for kids activities and “For Teachers” for lesson ideas.
Passenger Search. Search the records to see if any of your ancestors traveled through Ellis Island.
Ellis Island: Then and Now. A History Channel comparison of the appearance of Ellis Island from the past and again today.
Virtual Field Trip. From Scholastic.
PBS Kids Adventure in Citizenship. This is topic 2 of episode 4.
Family History Research Questions for kids. From my blog. Although students may not have had ancestors that traveled through Ellis Island, their parents and grandparents may have interesting stories of their own to share.
Note: I have ordered these books from most simple to the most complex.
The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff. Fiction Picture Book. A family fleas Russia during a boisterous time, and must past inspection in Ellis Island before they can enjoy freedom in America. Although the reasons for the family’s flight are dire, the positive (and clever!) ending are sure to delight young readers.
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro. Nonfiction Picture Book. Betsy Maestro manages to balance the text with the watercolor illustrations in a nice way. In this book, Ellis Island is just one part of the entire story of immigration.
Ellis Island: A True Book by Elaine Landau. Nonfiction. Books in the True Books series focus on facts and provide photos from history, as well as information feature like charts, diagrams, and timelines to assist in learning.
Letters from Rivka by Karen Hesse. Fiction. Rivka flees the Ukraine with her family in the early twentieth century, hoping to find freedom in America. But when Rivka is found to be ill, she must stay behind until she is better. On the other of her journey is a stay at Ellis Island. Although this is a chapter book, it is short and easily understood. Parents could read it with younger kids. It shows what it may have been like to arrive at Ellis Island.
If Your Name Was Changed At Ellis Island by Ellen Levine. Nonfiction. As a part of the “If you….” series, this book follows a similar format: questions lead the discussion here, and with a table of contents and index, young researchers can find what they are looking for.
What Was Ellis Island? by Patricia Brennan Demuth. Nonfiction. This addition to the “What Was…” series answers the question indicated in the title with plenty of details for the interested child. But despite the subject, it does not get bogged down. The length, writing style, and facts are all well designed for the third or fourth (or older) reader.
At Ellis Island: A History in Many Voices by Louise Peacock. Fiction. Sera fled her native Armenia more than a hundred years ago. Mixed in with her story is that of a child visiting Ellis Island in the present time, as well as quotes from actual immigrants who entered America there. The subjects are a bit more mature, so this is a book for older elementary school students.
Ellis Island: You Choose by Michael Burgan. Fiction. Readers choose the adventure as they read to get to their own, chosen ending to the story. Some of these are sad, and some are happy, and all are realistic.
Have you studied Ellis Island in your homeschool? What were your most useful resources? Have you had an ancestor arrive in America via Ellis Island?
Find out more about Rebecca at www.RebeccaReid.com.