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Immigrant Journal


Embarking: Most immigrants were part of the “steerage” class.  Immigrants travelling in the second wave had better accommodations because of the improvements made to the steamships steerage areas (considered third & fourth class passengers).

Arrival:  After 1890, immigrants either arrived through Ellis Island or Angel Island. First and second-class passengers were not subjected to inspections. Once they were examined for deadly diseases, cleared, and then briefed they could go into the city. Steerage passengers were shuttled to Ellis Island for further inspections and detainment.

Medical Inspections were considered the worst part of the immigration process. Six second exams were used by health officials to determine the general condition of the person, and included observing face, scalp, neck hand and gait (way of walking) where they could notice any extreme or debilitating disabilities.  If there were noticeable problems those people would be separated–about 20% of them  Skin, eyes, hands, throat, hands, voice, posture, joints, etc were checked for  any signs of contagious diseases or serious disabilities that would make them a burden on U.S. society

Legal inspections were used to verify answers to questions that were asked prior to the immigrants’ journey.  The process was not long, but the wait was 2 to 3 hours or all day. Inspectors sat on a tall chair behind a desk, and they seemed very imposing.

During Final Inspections immigrants were asked a series of about 32 questions to determine if they were coming to the U.S. for a legitimate reason, had proper moral character, and were unlikely to become a ward of the state or a violent revolutionary. Questions might include name, age, relatives in country, where will you be staying, how much money do you have.  Others included, have you ever been in prison, in a poorhouse, received support by charity, and how is your health (mental and physical).

Many names were changed.  Sometimes it was by the immigrants to help them assimilate into the American culture or the inspectors spelled the names wrong because of pronunciation many immigrants said that this was one of the worst times of their lives.

Assimilation: Two-thirds of immigrants ended up in cities including New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Those who decided to stay in New York were often greeted by family or friends that had already immigrated to the U.S. By 1920, 75% of foreign born U.S. residents lived in cities.

Initially, many immigrants stayed with family or friends until they could find a job and place of their own. The majority of them lived in close-knit ethnic neighborhoods, or enclaves, in the cities. These provided a sense of community and security because they were surrounded by familiar customs, food, language and institutions of their homeland. Normally, immigrants would settle in these areas permanently.

Decent housing was scarce; some even had to build their own shelters in the alleys. Streets were often flooded with waste due to the lack of proper sewage systems.  Most lived in crowded tenement buildings that were not equipped to deal with the massive influxes of new immigrants, and, thus, were rundown, filthy, low rent apartment buildings clustered together in the poorest parts of town.  They normally had six to seven floors with each floor containing four, four-room apartments with the first floor being a shop of two with attached living quarters where the shopkeepers and their families lived. Other floors were crammed with large families, often rent paying boarders, at $10 to $20 a month. Light, ventilation and/or conveniences were limited.

Not everyone chose to stay in the cities.  Some of those that may have had some type of agricultural background came to America for the land opportunities. These immigrants had adequate space and generally a higher standard of living that those in the cities. Weather could often be harsh and the closest town/other neighborhood could be miles away (20 to 40 miles in some cases).

Most immigrants became part of the industrial workforce because the Second industrial Revolution required a continual need for new workers.  Immigrants were cheap labor, and desperation led to a willingness to accept almost any kind of job as long as they were paid.  They were paid less than a living wage when $16 a week was needed for a family to maintain a minimum standard of living. Most textile workers were paid about $4 a week and garment workers about $1.25 a week. Average salary was 10 cents an hour and children often made half that. Everyone in the family needed to work because of the low wages. Long hours were demanded, normally 12 to 16 hours a day. Industrial jobs were often unsanitary, dangerous and uncomfortable; even with all the obstacles that immigrant workers faced, most were better off economically than they would have been if they had stayed in Europe.

Native-born Americans and assimilated (old) immigrants viewed new immigrants with a combination of fear, hostility, and suspicion. Some believed that new immigrants threatened their way of life. Very prejudice based on ethnicity, religious, political, and social beliefs.


Given your assigned role, you are to create an authentic immigrant journal or collection of letters.  The final product must appear authentic, be bound, submitted by the due date and fulfill the requirements as stated under the rubric below. In other words, this project will not be submitted electronically.


You must first begin by researching from the following links:

Of course, you must further your understanding by using a search engine such as Google or Bing, or a metasearch such as Dogpile or Metasearch.


Final Product
  • Appears authentic
  • Bound
  • Submitted on due date with rubric attached


  Points Possible


Entry  or Letter number and topic Required information

(Remember these must be based on your assigned roles and be accurate and authentic).

Minimum Length of entry
Total Points Possible










  • Name
  • Date (month and year)
  • Place of origin
  • Age
  • Travelling companions (relatives, friends)
  • Reasons for emigrating  (include social, political and economic push and pull factors)
  • Describe the journey across the Atlantic and the accommodations on the ship. (Remember to distinguish between steerage and first and second class).



2-3 paragraphs*






  • Describe your arrival experience and the inspection process
  • In describing your experiences remember to include what you:
  • Saw (landmarks, people, observations of the process including inspections)
  • Heard
  • Smelled
  • Felt (both emotionally and physically)



2-3 paragraphs*








  • Describe leaving Ellis or Angel Island and describe your ultimate destination. Include travel and living arrangements.
  • Describe your living conditions and neighborhood.
  • Describe your weekly activities including employment and leisure time.
  • Describe an encounter with at least one “other” American (where was the encounter and how were you treated).

3-4 paragraphs * for each entry






  • Describe your “naturalization” process.  What immigration and naturalization laws affected you?  Describe your naturalization ceremony.



2-3 paragraphs*


Extra Credit  

Extra points for inclusion of pictures or other artifacts


* a paragraph for this assignment is no shorter than seven sentences *