Orphan Train Riders

October 1, 2012  - by 
orphan train rider children waiting on a railroad platform to be selected their new family

The train out of New York City full of nuns and children pulled up to the Osage, Missouri station in 1901. Three year old Irma Craig had her name, birth date, and name of who was to receive her sewn on the inside of her jacket and a large number 32 sewn on the outside. As the train came to a stop little Irma could see a lady holding a large card with 32 written on it. Irma exclaimed, ” “That’s my new Momma,” and was soon rushing to meet Mrs. Katherine Boehm.Irma’s long  journey began when her birth mother, Lyda, left Irma at the New York Foundling Hospital when she was only a few months old. The Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul had raised her for three years. The Sisters sorted out and matched each child on this train to new homes before they boarded the train. But for many of the other 200,000 orphan train riders from 1853 to 1930 the experience included being selected (or not) during a review done by total strangers on a string of several railroad station platforms.

Social policy of the time said orphans or neglected children were better off doing chores on a pioneer’s farm than they would be on the streets of crowded slums. For most the new life worked out well, but for others it was a bad experience. Less than one in ten riders was returned. Whether a foundling, or a teenager separated from a neglectful alcoholic single-parent, each orphan train rider’s fate was strongly influenced by what happened in a few moments on a far away railroad platform.

About one in twenty-five Americans has an orphan train rider connection. Two organizations were responsible for more than half the orphan trains: the Children’s Aid Society, and the New York Foundling Hospital. However, dozens of organizations mostly in New York City, but also a few in Boston, Chicago, or Minnesota contributed children to the orphan train movement which “placed out” children in 48 states. Sometimes these sending institutions have records which show the names of the birth parents.

To learn about orphan train and adoption research try these Research Wiki articles:

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  1. I’m trying to find information on my grandfather ,he was put in the New York foundling orphanage I nov 1899 his mother requested he be named Harold Ackerman. He was taken in by Mary and Stanley krinisky at around 7 -9 . I’m trying to find out how many families he was placed with. I’m sure he was on the orphan train. Did they take any pictures of him or keep track of where he was .

  2. I am looking for names of orphan train rider names who may have been adopted or indentured to families in Fox Lake Wi, Dodge County. I found information that 20 children in 1869 on the orphan train. I’m looking for pictures, memoirs, articles for a presentation to our community through our historical society. Thank you.

  3. I am trying to find out how my grandfather Henry Roach and brother Charlie got to Tennessee from Illinois. Rumor is their parents died and they were sent to live with their mother’s parents. I know my grandfather Henry was born in Salem, Ill. on Oct 1888. However, they show up on the 1900 census in Tennessee. Apreciate any help. Thanks, Barbara

  4. We are also searching for information on my grandfather. He was at the NY Founding Home in Nov. 1899. Placed on orphan train to Praha/Moulton/Weimar, Texas in 1906. NYFH did have some information on his birth last name – showed as Sweeney. Any information would be helpful.

  5. My grandmother was Mary Eldora. I believe that Church was either her family name or new name after being placed. We would love to find out how and why she got to Richland Missouri. THANK you!

  6. My grandmother went from New York City to McGrath Minnesota. My aunt did some genealogy work. Came up with the last name Spiller.

  7. Trying to find out information on grandfather who was on orphan train with the nuns to Vichy Missouri his last name LeRoy frist name I think is William

  8. How would I go about trying. To find my great grandma Born in 1892 in NY grew up with foster parents in Nebraska, according to my mom, she was part of the Orphan Train

  9. I am trying to find information on my Grandfather’s (Clarence Edward Campbell) mother Margaret Campbell Born 1884. She put him in the New York Orphanage. I want to find living relatives of Margaret Campbell. . I don’t know if Margaret had other children. I do know that Clarence was her only child with Harry Nadin. I am not sure if she was ever married to him or if any of her relatives at that time even knew that she had given up a child to the orphanage.

  10. I am trying to find information on a Charles Kaber born 1899 in New York and sent to San Luis Colorado in 1910 adopted by Ramon Lucero.

  11. I am trying to find information about my Grandmother born in 1882 in New York and sent to Iowa on the Orphan Train. The name she had was Josephine Agnes Fleming.

  12. I’m trying to find information on Mary Rueben that was adopted off the orphan train in North Dakota. I have her birth year of 1904. She was adopted from my great grandmother Christina Schill and all records I find that she went by the name of Mary Rueben Schill. She was raised in a catholic family so I’m assuming her adoption came out of the New York Foundling Hospital.
    Thank you

  13. I’m trying to find a list of children’s name that came to south Louisiana. My great gray was a train rider her first name was Lydia her adopted last name was Fuselier (st. Martinville la) any help would be appreciated

    1. Karen My grandfather Clarence Edward Campbell also came to Louisiana on the Orphan Train. St. Landry Parish. He lived with the Thomas Bibb Family, Prarie Rhonde Louisiana. You may be able to find lists of names at the Orphan Train Museum in Opelousas Louisiana or on Karen;s list.

  14. Orphan train rider, Alonzo Earle. Destination, central Indiana. Born 1875. Died Dec. 1954. Last name was changed to Dillon. Orphanage burnt. All records destroyed. Alonzo [Lon] was too young to remember much. My Great Grandfather. Family never ever able to find anything about him.