Under normal circumstances, Ellis Island is a place for guests to learn about the history of immigration in New York City and potentially dive into their own family's past. The site is currently closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that doesn't mean its records are off-limits to the public. With Ellis Island's online passenger database, you can view historical immigration documents dating back to the 19th century.

According to the Downtown Alliance, approximately 12 million people immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. If a branch of your family tree landed in the country during this period, the move may be documented on the Ellis Island Foundation’s database.

To use the tool, create a free account and search for your last name. If you know the full name of a relative who may have passed through the island, you can input that too. Your search will bring up the name, birthplace, arrival date, and ship manifest of anyone who matches the information.

While the tool will tell you who in the database shares your last name, it can't confirm if they're related to you or not. For that, you'll need to reach out to your oldest surviving relatives. A genealogy project is a great excuse to schedule a video chat with grandparents, aunts, and uncles and learn more about your family tree at the same time. When asking surviving family members about late relatives, the Downtown Alliance recommends getting specifics like age, full names, and possible nicknames.

Browsing Ellis Island's database is an easy first step into the world of genealogy. Here are some secrets of genealogists to know if you're interested in the subject.

[h/t Downtown Alliance]