Looking for Descendants of the Orphan Train Riders

2015SBAGSOrphanTrain-smallerFrom the 1850s until the 1900s the Children’s Aid Society’s orphan trains brought children to families in the Midwest. During the early years, Indiana received the largest number of children.

If you are descended from one of the orphan train riders, at the program the South Bend Area Genealogical Society would like the opportunity to recognize you and honor your ancestor’s experience.

You can read more about the South Bend Area Genealogical Society’s meeting in the poster to the right. Click on the image to view a larger version.

The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1853 and 1929, relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. You can read more about Orphan Trains in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan_Train, in the Children’s Aid Society web site at http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphan-trains, and in a 2+-hour-long fictional movie based on historical facts and available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcSyP6_3j3w as well as in the video player below.


Thanks, Dick/ These orphans need to be remembered because of their sheer numbers. I tried through our website http://www.bethanyhome.org to remember a few in a specific place. Bethany was a creation out the PA State Soldiers Orphan School Program by Gov. Curtin after the Civil War – but survived till today because of its Reformed Church affiliation. I is difficult to assemble the records for such an institution but we got started through the Mocavo Community grant.
Thanks for keeping us focused on those true genealogical traits – caring for each other. happy holidays. Carl

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Each time I read about Orphan Trains, I shudder. When did we believe childhood memories began? Did we care? Did we believe the death of the parents erased the memory of that/those parent(s) and / or memories of relatives, friends, or even siblings?

My mother resided in an orphanage from 1918 (age 4) to 1927 and retained vivid memories of her life with her parents and relatives prior to the orphanage. Where was our empathy for these children who’d already suffered the greatest imaginable loss, the death of their parents? We placed them on trains and transported them to parts unknown.
It is part of our history and it’s SHAMEFUL !


    Most had good new homes. They were not being taken care of where they were at, so which would have been better for the children – life on the streets – or a family home in the west?


Both of my grandparents were orphans. I’ll start by saying neither was involved with the orphan trains. However it was common practice for the church (whatever denomination – in my case the Catholic church), to take care of children with these circumstances. Things were different then, diseases were rampant in big cities. After digging into my genealogy, I am happy that someone took them out of their environment and put them into a family or institution to care for them. In my grandfather’s case, if he were put back with relatives, he would have likely died in childhood, since the rest of the family all died of tuberculosis within 10 years. He only survived because he was taken away out of that environment of disease and poverty. On my grandmother’s side, the family was kept together in an orphanage. When old enough to work (sixteen), the oldest sisters got jobs and were eventually able to get the younger brothers out to live with them. The orphanage taught them ‘marketable’ skills like cooking, sewing, and the like. If they hadn’t had that the oldest would have had to ‘work’ at about age 9 to put food on the table, and continued in a life of poverty. It wasn’t all bad and I think the churches did what was needed for the times.

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My name is Mary Breier Mc Cawley. My grandmother Elizabeth Narie (?) Breier and her fraternal twin sister, Katherine ( Catherine Narie) were adopted into two families in St. Joseph, Missouri.


“The British Home Children” had a similar experience. Children who were orphaned, abandoned or from very impoverished homes were gathered by social agencies in the UK such as the Barnardo Homes. Then the children were sent to the British colonies, where local families were encouraged to foster them. In some cases the children were treated badly, but generally it provided a fresh start and new hope for children in desperate circumstances. I was in my 20s when a relative asked me “Your grandfather was a Barnardo’s boy, wasn’t he?” I had to plead total ignorance, I had never heard of such a thing. Many years later, I found Grandpa Ing’s record, now at:
The move to Canada was a good thing for my grandfather. But my father-in-law was brought to Canada from Liverpool under the “Harvesting Scheme” and felt like slave labor.


The children by train in Canada were called Home Children or it was referred to as the baby train. You can find more at http://www.en.m.wickipedia.org, Home Children.


Janel Lacassin Simien November 25, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Both of my grandmother’s parents came off of the Orphan Train, from New York, in 1907.
My great-grandmother was born in 1905 and left at the hospital, in New York. She was not even given a name by her mom. The birth record just said something in the way of…. baby girl Rosenfeld. She was Jewish. The orphanage gave her the name of Loretta Rose. They changed it to make it less Jewish, so she would be more easily adopted in the prejudice South. She was sent to Louisiana. She was adopted by a man….who after a little while decided that he did not want to keep her…..but, his brother decided that he would adopt her. His family was wealthy. She was well taken care of.
When she was older, she wrote to the orphanage to try to get information from them about her mother, but, there was not much to give. And, when she got old enough to date, she met William Cole, another Orphan Train Rider. William was an alcoholic, and her family forbid their relationship. I guess the Orphan Train bond was too strong. She married William and was disowned by her family once again.
William Cole supposedly had a brother named Roy Cole, based on some record that my family discovered over the years. We never found him though. His mom’s name was Jenny Crosby….or something close to that.
My great-grandparents had two children, Alvin Cole and Loretta Cole. My great-grandmother, Loretta Rose Cole, died when my grandmother was just 2 years old. She had a kidney disease.
My grandmother was about to be sent away to basically an orphanage herself, but, her alcoholic father, William, begged one of the ladies in his family to raise her, and she agreed. At first, she told him that she could not, because of her old age…but, then, he cried a good bit about it, and I guess she had to give in. My grandmother’s brother was raised by another one of the ladies in the family. However, my grandmother knew her daddy and brother, and she loved them so.
When my grandmother was about 16 years old, she went to live in a convent. She was going to become a nun. Her brother, Alvin, was attending college. My grandmother suffered with depression, and those poor nuns…. is all I am going to say. Just a few weeks from graduating college, Alvin was drafted to the war. On the day that he was to be discharged, he was killed by a bomb. My grandmother took it hard. Alvin was 21 years old. My grandmother was 19. The nuns made her leave. She did not want to, but, they insisted. They wanted her to make sure that she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She went home to the Doucets…which was the family that had raised her daddy, her, and her brother. She attended some type of festival, and she met Claude Joseph Kaiser. He was returning from the war. He did not say much…but, after a few weeks, he proposed…and, after a few months, they were married.
He wanted 2 kids, they had 14 and adopted 1. They fostered more than a dozen. One of the foster children’s mothers actually just gave her teenage son to my grandparents…..well, they had had him off and on since he was 5…and, to him, they were his parents. So, I guess you could say that they adopted 2. My grandmother has 51 grandchildren, over 130 great-grandchildren (still growing), and, 2 great-great-grandchildren (still growing). I am number 19 in the grandchildren.

My grandfather purchased some land in the country and gave each of his children an acre to start out. It was not much, but, it was sure nice to grow up on Kaiser Road. I caught the bus with about 25 first cousins each morning. We craw-fished with our hands, and ran down a gravel road barefooted with no problems. We grew up with French-fry parties for every report card. My grandmother would go buy 50 lb. sacks of potatoes, and we would eat until we were stuffed. We were supposed to have to show our report cards, but, it really did not matter, because everybody ate. Every birthday, my grandparents called to sing to me…..I felt special…but, so did every other grandchild…because, they got the same thing!
When my grandmother was 80, her daughters and most of her grand-daughters went to New York. I did not make the trip, as I had just given birth to twins. (The first in that big old family!)
They were going to New York to find out something…..something about my grandmother’s family….they visited Ellis Island, they went to where the orphanage was once located, they went to libraries, and to the hospital……and, you would not believe how many dead-ends they hit….
My grandfather died seven years ago. My grandmother is still alive at 89….and, crazy as ever!
Last March, I decided to test her DNA through Ancestry.com. After 8 weeks, they tell me that they could not process her sample, and needed another sample…after 4 attempts and a lot of weeks, I decided to give up….because, my grandmother is really just an “angel from Heaven”, and so were her parents! They rode the Orphan Train straight from Heaven.
I decided to test my mother’s DNA, and, she has a 2nd cousin match, who happens to be predominantly Jewish…and, also did admit that her grandmother came from Russia into New York in about 1905, and went by the name Rosenfeld….which would put her and my grandmother 1st cousins….but, who also don’t really know about a baby that was given up…and, also, don’t really care.
So, I’m sticking with what I said before…”Angels”!


We believe our Great Grandmother Anna Elizabeth Wallace came to Indiana at around age 9 from North Carolina by orphan train to Indiana where she was taken in by the Hull Family. Cannot find a link to her parents or any record of her birth but she its recorded she was born in N.Carolina in 1850’s. Any rolls of Orphan Train children we could check to be sure of the facts. We know the family that raised her were not related to her family, and she was left there.


My grandfather Francis Wilson came over to Louisiana in 1905 he stayed here in Louisiana being severely mistreated .then was sent back to New York City then they send him back to Louisiana to find another home. Ironically he couldn’t speak French when he got here when he went back to New York he couldn’t speak English the last home he was in Veronica Stalley they married and had 7 children he never wanted to find his mama said if she didn’t want and then she didn’t need them now I went back to New York City trying to find her all I have is her name of Margaret Wilson he had him at the infant Guild a savior gave him a godmother Lucy Burke she kept him for two weeks then turned him over he was a fantastic man…


The Orphan* Train movement is near to my heartstrings and I’ve investigated it for decades. Most riders came from New York City.**
NY Foundling Hospital and the Catholic Home Bureau sent the most children; both places are open today and will provide free look ups for a child’s records. About three dozen other “charitable” organizations ,
based in NYC, also provided children.

**When I first heard that our urban children were extracted from their
familiar neighborhoods and families, then shipped like cattle across country, I was horrified. As I delved into the squalor and deprivation that
predominated NYC tenement living, the exorbitant numbers of children per couple, and prejudice against immigrants, I understood that this provided little hope for future children. [Read “How the Other Half Lives.”]

*In the beginning, the label orphan meant a child who lost one
parent by death or desertion. Sometimes referred to as “half-orphan.”
Whereas a child whose two parents died, was called a “full orphan.”
It’s possible that an Orphan Train rider left one parent living in NYC.

Transporting children to other places to live without their parents may not be usual, but is not an historical anomaly either. During WW I I
Jewish children were sent to predictable safety in England, some
privately and others in groups. Again, the Catholic church assisted
with this movement. Nuns were great record keepers, yet secret keepers, who were known to destroy records that they individually
deemed “private.” [ See “mother baby” homes throughout Ireland and
most recently in County Cork, where nuns usurped unwed mothers’
rights by submitting their babies to clinical medical tests, just like Hitler ordered. In this Cork case the order of nuns involved lied and said they forwarded these medical testing records to a health agency. (An
investigative “plant” caught a nun describing these sequestered records,and videotaped it.]

Orphan Train riders were not guaranteed adoption, or full acceptance into a mid-western family’s fold. They were promised room and board,
and in some cases that’s all they got, much like America’s foster children today. Some thrived and succeeded in live, too.


My mother was adopted, but met her genetic parents in adulthood. She learned that her genetic grandmother was a orphan train rider.

My mom also got her DNA tested a decade ago and found that she was 1/8th Native American. The likely source is that her grandmother as half Native American and half European.


My great, great grandmother rode the orphan train from New York to Hanover, Indiana, in the early 1860’s. She was born Hattie (maybe Harriet) Washington in 1859 in New York City. I found one record of a Hattie Washington age 2 living with the Durnin Family in New York City in the 1860 census, which is close enough that it may be her.

By 1870, the 11-year-old Hattie was with her adoptive family, Rev. Timothy and Betsy Jayne (also b. in NY, about 50 years old when Hattie was born). In 1860 they were living in Lancaster, Jefferson, Indiana, with the last two of their children at home. At some point in the 1860’s, they adopted Hattie, who was with them in the 1870 census.

Until around 1910, Hattie always listed her maiden name as “Jayne” on her children’s marriage licenses. But by the time my great-grandfather was married in 1917, she listed her maiden name as Washington. I think that was her birth name, and using that I found this record which has a Harriet Washington born in 1859 sent to Hanover, Indiana, with the note that he married name was Garton (close enough to Gorton). http://files.usgwarchives.net/in/o-train.txt

These are the clues I have to work with. Any information that anyone can provide would be a great blessing.

Thanks, Kate


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