Listening Topic: History – student presentation on Ellis Island

A. A. Listen to a presentation about Ellis Island and number the topics in the order that they are mentioned.

___ The “kissing port”

___ The dining hall

___ Researching your family background

___ Arriving at Ellis Island

___ The inspections

B. Try to make some notes about each topic from the presentation. Then listen to the presentation again and add more details to your notes. Listen again if necessary.



1  Possessions that people brought to America


2. The first meal


3  How and why some people were held back


4  The Great Hall


5  The “kissing post”


6  How Melissa’s aunt found out about her grandfather




4 2 5 1 3


Answers will vary.

1   musical instruments, tea pots, earth, plants

2   paid for by the steamship companies, food was good, food was strange to many, ice cream and some fruits were new to many immigrants

 illness, old people and children traveling alone, held in the hospital, 20% held back, most released after a day or two

 waited in line for hours, crowded, hot, very loud, many languages, inspectors asked questions like, “Where do you come from?” and “Where are you going?”

 scene for family reunions, husbands and wives met there, parents and kids met there

 Her aunt used Ellis Island records (ship records); she found out the name of her grandfather’s town in Ireland; she visited the town and met a relative.


A = Arnie, B = Grace, C =Melissa

A:   Our presentation is about Ellis Island. We went there last week and took a tour, and we’re going to describe some of the things that we found out. First, Grace and I’ll talk about the process – what it was like for immigrants to go through Ellis Island – and then Melissa’s going to talk about her family’s experience doing research into her background. OK? So, let’s go to Grace first.

B:   Hi. I’m going to talk about the first part of the process of going through Ellis Island, the different stages that the immigrants had to go through.

  1. First, one important thing to remember is that Ellis Island was only used for the poorest immigrants: the third class passengers. The first and second class passengers were processed on the ship.

Then they were taken to the docks, where they got off, and then the ship would sail on to Ellis Island, with the third class passengers still on board.

When they finally landed at Ellis Island, they’d put on all the clothes they owned, because they were allowed to bring in only one bag with their possessions from the old country. People brought in all kinds of things! Like, you would see musical instruments, or samovars – pots for making tea. Some people brought earth from the old country too, or plants – vines for example, for growing grapes.

Then the first place they got to was the dining hall, where they were given a meal that … it was paid for by the steamship companies. People who came through Ellis Island always remember the meal. The food was apparently quite good, but it was also strange for many of them. Some people had never tasted ice cream, or seen an orange or a banana for example.

And then after that, the inspections began. And Arnie is going to tell you about that part. Arnie?

A:   Thank you. OK. After the meal, the passengers would have their bags and go up a staircase to the Great Hall and, as they walked past, inspectors would watch them carefully to see if they were weak or sick. If someone was sick, they would send them to the hospital – there was a hospital on Ellis Island as well – until they got better. They also detained children, young women and old people traveling alone. About twenty percent of people were held back, often for health reasons, but most were held back, often for health reasons, but most were released after a day or two, or when someone came to pick them up.

In the Great Hall they waited in line for hours, sometimes as long as five hours. They were crowded together, and it was often very hot and very loud – you can imagine – as many as two thousand people, all talking in so many languages. Then when they finally got to the top of the line, the inspectors asked them questions like, “Where do you come from?” and “Where are you going?” “Is somebody waiting for you?” That kind of thing. And there were social workers and interpreters waiting with the inspectors, like, helping people who needed to locate relatives, or whatever.

Once they got past that part – the questions – people would go into one of three lanes behind the inspectors. The first lane was for the detention center, if you were being held back. The second lane was for the railroad ticket office, for the train station. And the third lane was down the stairs to the area where people were waiting. There was a post there that was called “The Kissing Post” because that was the scene of so many reunions. Husbands met their wives, and fathers met their children they hadn’t seen in years. And then the immigrants went off to start a new life.

So now I’m going to let Melissa talk about her family’s experience tracing their ancestors.

C:   Well, my great-grandfather came in from Ireland, and my aunt Joan actually used Ellis Island records to do research and find out where he came from. So, I’m going to talk a bit about that.

Basically what they have at Ellis Island is the ship’s records and the immigration information of every arriving passenger, with like, the date that they came in, their age, and the town they came from. So, if you know, for example, your ancestor’s name, the year they arrived, and where he or she came from, you can look them up.

So that’s what we did. My aunt Joan wanted to know more about her grandfather – my great grandfather. He died before I was born, but, apparently, he was a great musician. He’d play the fiddle and sing at family events. Well, Joan knew that he’d come from Cork, in Ireland, but she didn’t know where in Cork, because he never spoke about it.

So Joan went to the Ellis Island records, and she found my great grandfather’s name, and it gave the name of the town that he came from. So she went to Ireland and visited the town a couple of years ago. She got more information when she was there, and eventually she found a living relative – a cousin – that she didn’t know she had. It was great because she had always wanted to know more about where their grandfather had come from.

B:   So, that’s all we have time for, but we hope that you enjoyed our presentation. Thank you.

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