United States Records of Childrens Homes and Orphanages (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States: Institutional Records  by Amy Johnson Crow, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Children's Homes and Orphanages[edit | edit source]

In the early days of institutions for the poor and sick, orphans and children of destitute parents were usually cared for in the same facilities as adults. Churches and religious associations opened separate orphanages in the late 1700s. The first half of the 19th century saw these types of institutions in a few locations in the United States, mainly in urban areas.

By the 1880s, most states had enacted laws requiring children to be cared for in facilities separate from adults. It is at this time you will see the creation of government-run county children’s homes.

The term ‘orphanage’ is often a misnomer. These institutions often took in not only parentless children, but also children whose parents were unable or unwilling to provide for them. Such children could be placed there either by the choice of their parent(s) or by the courts.

Records of Orphanages[edit | edit source]

Because of the personal and often sensitive nature of these records, orphanage records are often closed to the public. However, do not assume that all of them are sealed. You may be pleasantly surprised to find the one you need is available, and the records can be a treasure of information.

Admission registers and applications can be wonderful sources of information. Specific information on the child and his parentage is often asked for. (Of course, there are times when this information is not available.)

Below is Mrs. Mary J. Oharra’s application for her son William to the Hare’s Orphans’ Home in Columbus, Ohio.[1]

Figure: Hare’s Orphans’ Home Application, Columbus, Ohio


Not all applications were on pre-printed forms. A letter to the Hare’s Orphans’ Home reads:

Columbus, O.
Sep. 21st 1891

To the Matron
Hare Orphans Home:
        Admit to the Home Perlie Johnson Who was born December 8th 1889 at Columbus Ohio. Father in Ohio Penetentiary [sic] and mother Mrs. Nellie Johnson unable to take care of her.
        /s/ John H. Culbertson
        H. Tuller
        E. C. Briggs'[2]

Records of county children’s homes tend to be more open than those of private orphanages. Below shows the admission register for the Athens County, Ohio Children’s Home. The information asked for included:

  • Name
  • When born
  • Where born
  • Parents’ name
  • Nationality
  • How received
  • Township
  • When admitted
  • To whom indentured
  • When indentured

Although some children were noted as being returned to their parents, others children were indentured. Sarah E. Kemp was indentured to Mrs. Annie Birt, Murray City, O. A search of Athens County court records for indenture, adoption or guardianship records would be wise.

Indentures may be noted in the admission register (as you’ve just seen) or they may be in separate volumes. If indentures are not part of the admission register information, look for a separate volume; the clues to the person taking the child and their residence can point you toward court records and a possible place of residence after their discharge from the childrens’ home.

Figure: Children’s Home Register, Athens County, Ohio
Left Side


Figure: Right Side

Right side11V.jpg

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hare's Orphans' Home records, 1801-1992, State Archives Series 5047, box 2323, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
  2. Ibid.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Institutional Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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