USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island

Today’s post comes from Allison Finkelstein, a historian with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services History Office and Library.

U.S. Immigrant Building EI under constr 11 Jan 1900 NARA
Photograph of the U.S. Immigrant Building at Ellis Island, 1/11/1900. (National Archives Identifier 597954)

The USCIS History Office and Library recently released a new documentary film project, USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island. From 1892 to 1954, the federal immigration service and its employees processed more than 12 million immigrants at the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor.

This film tells the story from the perspective of those who worked there and highlights the historical connections between USCIS and this iconic historic site.

The project began in summer 2016 and involved extensive research at a variety of repositories, including the National Archives. Critical sources came from the textual records within Record Group 85: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (RG 85). RG 85 records provided detailed information about the work of Ellis Island’s employees, and several scanned documents from records are included in the film. Images from the National Archives’ photographic records of Ellis Island, many of which are now digitized, are also seen throughout the film and help bring the story to life.

Beyond the National Archives, the USCIS team also conducted research in the National Park Service’s (NPS) collection of Ellis Island material, including artifacts, photos, and documents. With the support of the NPS, the team then traveled to Ellis Island to film on location and interview expert park rangers. Source material also came from the collection of the USCIS History Office and Library and several other repositories, such as the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.

The National Archives’ and NPS’ willingness to share their resources and knowledge made it possible for the film to portray the often-overlooked stories of Ellis Island’s employees in a more dynamic and engaging way. You can watch USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island for free on YouTube.

To learn more about the USCIS History Office and Library, visit their website at To learn more about genealogical resources at the National Archives visit our website


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