Formerly published by GlobalGazette.ca
Was Your Ancestor an Orphan Train Rider?
Published: 02 March 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges Biography & Archived Articles
One of the important things that needs to be considered when we are looking for these individuals is the confusing label of "orphan train." Many of the children placed out were not true orphans. Most had at least one parent who was still living.
There were all kinds of reasons that people had given up their children. Some of these were:
The first "train" went out from The Children's Aid Society on September 20, 1854, with 46 ten-to-twelve-year-old boys and girls. Their destination was Dowagiac, Michigan. They have gone to a lot of work commemorating this and getting a registry developed.
Two trains stopped at Albion, MI where we live. One left NYC on May 21, 1857, with 30 children on board, and another on June 30, 1857 with 31 children. Numerous children were placed from these particular trains at stops along the Michigan Central Railroad route at Albion, Marengo, and Marshall, MI. If you have ancestors who might have been on those trains I would encourage you to contact Frank Passic. He is one of the best authorities on those individuals that I know. Visit his web page.
I hope that you may have had the opportunity of seeing the Orphan Train video when it was televised by PBS. If not, try and get a copy to view. I will caution you to have a box of Kleenex by you though.
In order to understand the orphan train movement, we need to examine the life of Charles Loring Brace.
Charles Loring Brace was a young minister from a well-known Connecticut family. He had gone to New York to complete his seminary training. He became captivated by the plight of these children and he was determined to help them. He was convinced that there was only one way to help these children. Brace decided at age 26 that he wasn't cut out to preach. He found his calling instead among the cast-off children of New York City Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society of New York in 1853. For more information about him consult this website.
Brace had an idea. He wanted to send as many children as possible west to find homes with farm families. Brace wrote: "In every American community, especially in a western one, there are many spare places at the table of life. There is no harassing struggle for existence. They have enough for themselves and the stranger too." Because Brace understood the need for labor in the expanding farm country in the West, he believed that farmers would welcome homeless children, take them into their homes and treat them as their own.
The children were rode the orphan trains were survivors.. There have been governors, doctors, lawyers, business men, teachers, laborers, farmers, etc. Many of these riders have been veterans who have defended America in her wars. They have built industry in our great country. Many of them have been have been loving parents and many have been foster parents or have adopted children. It has been estimated that these children's descendents number approximately two million.
Reasons for sending children west:
Challenges faced by some of the riders:
Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930
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