Orphan trains

For many many years I thought my grandpa rode the orphan train out to Minnesota after his mother died from influenza. I got the story only partially correct. He and his brother were sent to Minnesota from New York - not on the orphan train per se, but rather to live with a specific family and work on their farm.

So, he wasn't one of those children who got onto a stage at one stop to be examined by potential foster families, but when the topic of orphan trains came up during a conversation today, I started to wonder how the program was organized, and whether there was any compensation for the families who took children in from the trains.

Start with The American Experience or The Orphan Train Movement for an introduction to the orphan train program founded by the Children's Aid Society in 1853 (who knew it started that early?). Once the children arrived in the Midwest, "they would be placed in homes for free but they would serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm. They wouldn't be indentured. In fact, older children placed by The Children's Aid Society were to be paid for their labors." The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America offers a collection of resources ranging from census information to archival records that includes where the children came from, lists of riders by state, vital record information, and links to other countries that had similar programs to relocate children.

I just wanted the basics. To anyone interested in digging deeper, I would suggest some titles of books I came across and direct them to academic and historical databases through their library.

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