In 1853 Charles Loring Brace formed the Children’s Aid Society to develop programs for the growing population of orphaned children in New York City. In the mid-1800s, a wave of immigration brought newcomers to America. Without an extended family to fall back on, immigrants often crowded into unsanitary living conditions where illness spread creating high mortality rates. Other factors that contributed to the orphan population were disease, unsafe working conditions, poverty, and the Civil War. At one point an estimated 30,000 orphans roamed the streets of New York City. The Children’s Aid Society aimed to change that. From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 children were loaded onto Orphan Trains and transported from eastern cities to the rural Midwest hoping to find adoptive homes. At the time, there was no federal government program to oversee child welfare.  

Children board the Orphan Train

For some, the Orphan Trains resulted in children being placed in loving, adoptive homes. Others were paraded before prospective adoptive families and treated like indentured servants.  

Little 3-year-old Louise Anderson rode the Orphan Train and got adopted by a family whose daughter had died. She remembered her adoptive mother commenting, “We lost a little girl; she was so smart, and this one was a dummy.” Louise’s adoptive home was not a happy one. By the age of 12, she spent nights alone outside minding the cattle. She never attended school and was illiterate as a child. She married at 17 and learned to read and write alongside her young children.

Alice Ayler was one of the last to ride the Orphan Train in 1929. She was living in a tent in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York with very little to eat. Her mother would often disappear for days at a time and eventually signed papers relinquishing her to the Children’s Aid Society. Ayler took the Orphan Train to Kansas and was adopted. “I was one of the luckier ones because I know my heritage,” Ayler said. “They took away the identity of the younger riders by not allowing contact with the past.”

Most children sent west on Orphan Trains retained few memories and no documentation about their birth families. Siblings were often separated and never saw each other again. Seven-year-old Clara was an exception. Her parents and a sister died while trying to cross a river in New York state. She and her two younger brothers boarded an Orphan Train to Kansas where they were adopted by three different loving families. They remained in contact with one another throughout their lives. 

Two silk ribbons with the number 9 printed on them were the identification pieces worn by young girl who rode the Orphan Train

Nettie Enns remembers boarding the Orphan train with her twin sister Nellie. They were given blankets, name tags and sack lunches for the four-day journey to Kansas. After arriving, the sisters were adopted but their first home was abusive. Nettie remembers her sister being hit with a horsewhip after falling and breaking a dish. The girls were eventually removed from the home and taken in by a woman they considered their mother, though she never officially adopted the girls. Later in life Nettie and Nellie both married and lived across the street from each other.

Discovering information about family members who rode Orphan Trains is difficult, but sometimes possible. Begin with newspaper clippings in the city where they were adopted and branch outwards. Head over to to learn more about Orphan Trains today!

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131 thoughts on “Orphan Trains Head West

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I had heard of Orphan Trains but did not know this much about them. I appreciate the sharing! 🙂

    1. Yes! Thank You for sharing this unknown and unfamiliar piece of Americana. I have a History background and have never heard this story. Excellent writing with pictures and museum quality artifacts. Grand Slam!

    2. Amazon has several books on this subject, fiction, but historical fiction is mostly correct for the time period and often taking from real stories like these kids stories. There is even a book titled Orphan Train. I have not read them yet but they are on my to read list.

      1. The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a wonderful read. For the most part, people do the best they can. My parents were both killed in a freak backyard electrocution. There were 4 of us under 6. We went to an orphanage and all turned out very well. It was the best choice as both grandparents were widowed, mother had no siblings and dad’s siblings were already in religious life (a nun, a Franciscan brother, and a priest). We are blessed to have been kept together during that time. There were a number of newspapers that reported the death.

      2. The book Orphan Train was so good. It taught me about a period in our history I had never heard of. Those poor kids — at the mercy of the adults who took them in. Some really had terrible adoptive parents. Some were sexually abused. Very sad.

        1. Yes, some were mistreated, but through this “social experiment” many many children found a home with caring families. In 1853 when Children’s Aid Society was formed, NYC was in a desperate situation with about 30,000 homeless children living on the streets. The Children’s Aid Society and also a little later, the New York Foundling Hospital took them in.
          When the numbers exceeded what the agencies could care for, many of these children were sent west on trains to new families. This saved them from a life on NYC streets where they might have ended up in lives of crime, prostitution, and starvation. That was before welfare programs, so private agencies like CAS and NYFH, churches, etc., stepped in to save these thousands of children. God bless them.

      3. I am reading this book now and it breaks my heart because The story touches home as my Gramma was never able to see older brother because he was farmed out in 1914 as they were orphans in Ohio.

    3. To the administrators of this thread. I really don’t appreciate you allowing this forum on the orphan train to become political. It is not a proper forum to discuss politics. I don’t know on which side your sympathies lie, and frankly I don’t care. I’ve used your site to research one of my relatives was in who died in combat to protect this country. You should have flagged that initial comment as inappropriate and deleted it. We don’t come here for that. If you want my continued patronage of you product, I expect to see an apology on this forum from you, and if not, you have a lot of competition out there. I will take my business elsewhere and I urge all of you who were upset by the initial comment and found it inappropriate, to do the same…

      1. The administrators need to delete this thread. Like Doug, I enjoy the history. I did not subscribe to Ancestry and it’s affiliations to listen to someone injecting politics. For all political posts and replies….delete them and if the same offender offends again boot them off the site. I too will take my business elsewhere. Sick of those people who always have to inject their views and politics in everything.

      2. I really liked this article and don’t see anything political about it. I’m hoping what you were referring to was a comment that was deleted.

        1. …..ahhh. I see…Reading on to a nightmare of politics. Wrong platform. Please vent your politics elsewhere, and to administration of this site, please block people that use this site for their political agenda.

          1. I agree. It has no place here. I read one historical novel about orphan trains and it told of good a nd bad stories. Some families were only looking for farm help and others truly wanted children to love. It went both ways. Jennie

        2. It’s a great article. It looks like the post in question was deleted without a response from the administrators… Mission accomplished I hope…

      3. You need to grow up and get a life. Real life does not revolve around politics. There was nothing political about finding homes for orphans. I guess in your mind they should have been aborted.

        1. Hey Roy, you’re late to the party, the post in question was deleted by the administrators, along with the many others from people who were just as concerned as I was about it. There is nothing political about finding homes for orphans which was precisely my point. You didn’t think this through and you didn’t see the original post. The problem post was deleted before you got here, but mine, in response to it, remains. You look a little foolish right about now…

          1. P.S. the next post below this is a story of the orphan train from my own family.

          2. Yes, even finding homes for orphans is political. Without governmental social programs, which didn’t exist in the late 1800s (the period of the “orphan trains”), the burden falls on charitable organizations. How is it difficult to understand that social programs are IN FACT political? Quit jumping down everyone’s throat for expressing an opinion…which is allowed by a political document called the US Constitution.

      4. Everything historical is political. History is just history and any attempt to change a part of if it is dishonest. There are too many today who would change or rewrite history to gloss over anything unpleasant. If you do not learn from straight told history you are bound to continue to be uninformed on the truth and never learn from the hardships of previous times. I was less than 6 years after that period and older people spoke of these occurrences in the same nature of the story.

    4. Here is a great orphan train story from my own family, that I uncovered while researching my family through old newspapers…

      Joseph Rimmer and Margaret Van Pelt had a number of children all born in Brooklyn, NY, in the 1860’s.

      Joseph Rimmer died c. 1871. His wife had little to no means of support. She put her two youngest sons William and Edward in an orphanage in Brooklyn. The orphanage sent them west on the “orphan train”, the western terminus of which was Missouri. Both William and Edward are in the 1880 census. Both are in Moniteau, Howard County, MO. They were farm hands as children – indentured servants.

      As it turns out, their father, Joseph Rimmer was the sole heir to the estate of a man named Van Pelt who was a relative of his wife. The estate involved large parcels of former farm land in South Brooklyn which was not yet part of new York City, and in 1888 the estate went into litigation brought on by another Van Pelt.

      As a result, the lawyers had to track down all of Joseph Rimmer’s children. They found them all, including the two in Missouri, except for the brother George Rimmer. (Who was allegedly last seen at the site of a murder). (As if there isn’t enough drama in this story already).

      Margaret Van Pelt Rimmer was apparently dead by 1888.

      The property was sold at auction and the children of Joseph Rimmer including the orphan train boys each got about $5,000, as the property had become very valuable by 1888 as Brooklyn grew south. Imagine their surprise when these two “orphans” were contacted with this news. Pretty momentous stuff for a couple of orphaned destitute children from Brooklyn. $5,000 was a fortune in 1888. They were probably worth more than their “masters”.

      The Rimmer boys lost track of each other in MO, prior to this, and it looks like William (13 in 1880) may have know slightly more than Edward (11 in 1880). They apparently did learn about their family, and both came east to re-establish the family ties with their siblings who were not sent to the orphanage. When they returned to MO, as wealthy men, Edward actually named a son “Brooklyn Edward Rimmer” – no kidding. Look him up. If Edward was intending to ensure his offspring knew where they came from originally, he surely succeeded by naming his son “Brooklyn”.

      To verify this story, go to the free old newspaper website “Brooklyn Eagle On-line” and search on “Where is George Rimmer”. If you search on “Rimmer” in 1888 you will also get the legal notice about the litigation which lists all of the Rammer’s family including William and Edward.

      Researching this orphan train story has been one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had.

    5. We did Dna testing to help find our missing roots. It can help alot if you struggle with psper records. We have been able to determine the mother’s family but not the father so far. Wish us success!

      1. I wish you success and luck Tammy. My father was an Orphan Train Rider and we have connected with his mother’s family descendant and his father’s. We know who his mother was and her family. We know his father’s family but not who his father was exactly.

  2. Only two comments and President Trump got lumped in here. Talk about TDS! Great bit of history. Thank you for the interesting lesson. Who says history is boring?

    1. The info re:Orphan Trains was nice & appreciated, However Karen Hs political based comment (ie;Trump bash) really shouldn’t be published because it’s totally divisive talk!!

        1. Once again, please avoid political comments, by letting it go. Trump bashing is not OK. At the same time, can we leave assumptions about Democrats (or Republicans) out as well? Thanks.

  3. My great aunt adopted a boy from the Orphan Train. Thanks for this article- now I’m inspired to learn more about him!

  4. I hope we never end up in a situation where desperate children might get placed with someone like you. You’re comments indicate you are a hater through and through. Normal people can’t even read a history lesson without some hater popping off.

    1. I agree with Faith and Whollie, stop making everything the world Trumps fault! He’s doing an excellent job!

    2. This is a crying shame. You should be ashamed of yourself. You with all your hate! You are pitiful! I’ll pray for your soul Karen Hauserman

    3. wow you got all upset didn’t you, bless your heart, she just wants children to be placed with their parents. I really don’t think you are smart enough to see that though. what is going on now will soon be history are you taking in desperate children yourself now?

    4. Trump caused them to swim or trek over here illegally? How does your mind work that way?

    5. Asking for and seeking asylum is NOT illegal. Otherwise most of you would not be here.

      1. Most people did not immigrate to America seeking asylum Kathleen. If there is one thing I can’t abide, it’s opinionated ignorance. You don’t know your own county’s history.

  5. Greatly enjoyed the history lesson. I had heard of the orphan trains before (and thee bride trains) but this provides more info than I had before. But the Trump haters need to find somewhere else to post their childishness, this is not the venue for it.

    1. I totally agree…it was a good history lesson. I’m glad I subscribe to Newspapers. I’ve found many of my relatives and some stories that I hadn’t heard of before. But that aside as I read this article, I wondered if someone would find something to attack President Trump. Sure enough those haters are every where.

  6. My great aunt got a little girl, she was their only child and was very loved and always treated well according to mother who was a cousin.

  7. These are human beings, children who are suffering, God forgive your ignorant,heartless comments.

  8. Is there a link to the records of the children that were part of the orphan trains ?

    1. The Children of John Dougherty, New York City, New York. Approximately 1857.
      Their names: Michael born app 1842, Mary Ann born 1845, James William born Oct 31, 1845, Katheryn born about 1848.
      John DOUGHERTY is the 2nd great grandfather of Richard KLEINSCHMIDT.

    2. There is no comprehensive list of the 250,000+ children who rode orphan trains. There were over 30 organizations with some type of placing out program and most of them were in New York, where privacy laws do not allow them to share information with anyone except direct descendants. We, at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, KS are working to compile a list, but we have a long way to go. We have names submitted to us by riders and descendants and the ones we have found ourselves through research.

      1. Keep up the good work. Finding our relatives is so important. Families help us find ourselves

    1. Sometimes good intentions get subverted. It’s shameful only for those who mistreated their precious charges, not for those who wanted the best for them. I’m sure some of the Organizers wanted better lives for the children. Some of the children flourished under love (see stories above) and others suffered terribly. Let’s thank God for the good people and shame the bad.

      1. Eighty percent of children who rode Orphan Trains had positive experiences. If you look at the numbers for the current foster care system, the numbers are close to the same. MOST of the people who were involved had the best interests of the children at heart.

        1. Amen, Lori. My mother rode the OT in 1901, and had some sad times but mostly good memories. She grew up into a lovely, intelligent, faith-filled woman, became a school teacher and then married. She raised a large family by herself after her husband died suddenly at 42. We thank God for the New York Foundling whose staff cared for her and so many children and they did what they could to help them. We also are so thankful for her loving foster families and all those who helped her and us in any way over the years.

  9. It is the laws in this land that is at the bottom of these separations. Talk to Congress so that they change the law.

  10. A good novel about the Orphan Trains is by Christina Baker Kline titled Orphan Train. Well researched historical fiction.

      1. No, the girl who inspired Little Orphan Annie, wasn’t part of the orphan train. Riley is buried in the same cemetery my father is. And the girl who inspired Annie is buried in a small cemetery in the little town of Greenfield Indiana. That’s where Riley grew up

  11. I miss the connection with current day politics. I thought this article was more about the grave conditions in the later 19th century and how this helped give children a second chance to be united to a family to make a better situation.

  12. Not only did Trump not cause any of this the situation of these children heading to our country alone as beeygoing on over 25 years. My husband worked with a lady who as a 12 year old left Honduras with a group who entered through Mexico legally 15 years ago. It took her three years to get here after reaching Mexico. None of that has anything to do with this wonderful well done article!

  13. It isn’t a criminal act to seek asylum. It is part of our law. Educate yourself instead of falling for this current administration is propaganda.

  14. I’m sorry. I thought this was a historical blog but instead it’s just another political gig. I shall be unsubscribing.

    1. As an New Zealander living in Australia I found this article very interesting. I would not unsubscribe because of what someone said. As mentioned people will always find a way of making something negative out of a positive.

  15. I am searching for my great-grandfather who came to Iowa on an orphan train in 1898, born in NY in 1896. We don’t have his birth name. He was adopted by J.D. and Halan Mann (nee Steinmaus). It’s strange because Halan’s father (Jospeh Steinmaus) had adopted a child (John) in 1886 and her sister (Anna Rank nee Steinmaus) had adopted two girls, one of whom died as a teen and the other is Lottie Rank. All living in the Fort Dodge, IA, area.

    1. As a Search Angel that helps people find biological family, May I respectfully suggest a dna test? Just got an email this morning that Ancestry has them on sale for $59 for St Patrick’s Day. If you need help getting started, I can help you.

      1. Thanks! We have done them and know now that his mother was 100% Jewish and his father was of eastern European/Polish decent. We haven’t been able to find many close relatives so far, mostly 3rd cousins on his mother’s side.

        1. IF the child was raised Catholic, he was probably sent out by the New York Foundling Home in New York City. Many of the children sent out by them and raised Catholic were born Jewish. The Jewish hospital was right around the corner and it was easy for women who had children they couldn’t raise to walk around the corner and leave the babies there.

          1. You are exactly right. He was adopted (but never officially, I combed Iowa probate/guardianship records) by a strict Catholic family in Iowa. Do you know the names of the Jewish hospital, and/or the Catholic hospital?

          2. My mother ‘s mother was Jewish but her husband was not. I suspect that she took her baby to the New York Foundling because it had a good reputation for caring for babies, and she wanted the best for her child.
            Regarding those who had to work hard as farm hands, we have to remember that in those days everyone on a farm worked hard, whether the farmer’s natural born child or adopted. My mother said she was never made to work, but she did because that’s just what the family did.
            She said that she “was petted and pampered” by the foster family. She said she was one of the fortunate ones.

    2. My great-grandfather rode the train in 1898 to Nebraska. I was able to find his name, as well as a brother and sister, on passenger lists. There is not one all-containing list so you’ll have to search with your specific ancestor’s data to find the one for him. Knowing the date and final destination of my grandfather’s trip, I wrote to Paul Clarke with the CAS Archives Office in NY. After proving my relationship to the riders through birth and marriage records and submitting a fee, I received an abstract of their records. It contained quite a bit of information, including the names of the birth parents as known and the circumstances for their placement. Follow-ups were done after the children were placed so I ended up with the married name of the sister. With that information, I was able to locate her living grandson, the only surviving descendant from her and make a connection. The sister married soon after she arrived, the brother was placed several times by the CAS but was never “stuck” and my great-grandfather, who rode when he was 13, was used as farm labor. The family wasn’t unkind but he decided at 15 that if he was just a farm hand, he might as well strike out on his own and earn a living. He did just fine in life and wrote an autobiography about his experiences. It was equally sad and inspiring to read.

  16. A large majority of the children coming over the broder were not with family because the parents sold them to drug cartel. Research before you shoot your mouth off.

    1. NoNoThere’s no data to back you up! It’s an urban myth, oft repeated but without documentation.

  17. I saw a documentary on PBS and learned that many kids were used as servants and farm hands.

    1. This is true. Some families weren’t looking for a child to love; they were looking for help on the farm.

      A friend of ours wrote a book called “The Train to Red Cloud” about her grandfather, who rode an orphan train, and was not treated well by the people who took him in.

  18. Well written article about a very unique period in the history of our great country. Thank you. While I agree that “past is prologue,” it is truly unfortunate that so many of us are compelled to see and measure everything through the lens of today’s divisive contemporary politics.

  19. Can you imagine how horrific the situation was in their home country that doing that was a better option than staying there?:

  20. The English government did something similar with orphans and even children with one parent living. They sent the children to Canada (sometimes without even notifying the parent) where they were put on trains and taken often by farmers as unpaid workers. I helped a friend research her father and his brother who were 8 and 10 in 1910 when they were sent to Canada. Their mother did not know what had happened to them initially. The brothers were taken by the same farmer and slept in the hayloft until they were teens and ran away. The first time they were caught and returned to the abusive farmer. Eventually my friend’s dad crossed the border to Michigan. My friend and her adult daughter and I went back to England after I did the family research and visited all the places her ancestors and dad once lived even meeting a cousin who knew a great deal about the family. It was a very healing experience that she only wished her dad had been able to do before his death.

  21. “Orphan Trains” were an offshoot of Loring Brace’s Children’s Aid Society, a Presbyterian organization in NYC thought to be philanthropic at the time. Then the Catholic church jumped in claiming that Catholic children should be placed with Catholic families. NY Foundling was begun by Charity nuns, and they became the main “supplier” of children sent on these trains to the Mid-West and West. But, other organizations sent children too, like the CHB. Remember, this was not Trump’s shiny NYC, it was a gritty, industrial, manufacturing urban decay rampant with crime, disease & tenements. The crux of the issue is that city leaders didn’t care what happened to children of the poor, and gave
    the nuns free rein. NYF [my church!] deliberately changed children’s names, Orphan Train Riders and kids in even NYC institutions, to make it difficult to track their original parents. I’ve seen it time and time again, the name changing.

    1. This is a very negative take on the kindness of others. The three nuns who started the NY Foundling home should be credited with saving thousands of children, not vilified for the failures of others. They were heartbroken at witnessing the abandoned children on the streets of NYC. Much like Sister Theresa of Calcutta, they dedicated their lives to the service of others. They did not enrich themselves by “supplying” children. They were trying to save the children from death and abuse on the streets.
      There will always be wolves in sheep clothing who pretend they want to help children. We need to guard against them, not vilify helpers with good intentions.
      It’s also easier to criticize the work of others than to do something about a problem. Thank you to all the anonymous good people of the world, especially in the Catholic Church (the world’s largest charitable organization), who work for the benefit of others.

      1. So you’re saying, Melanie, that metroNYCancestry can’t have an opinion? There is a reason that there is a saying, “Clouds have silver linings,” but that saying means that something good may be surrounded by something not good. The Oprhan Trains and the adoption system had pros and cons.

  22. I worked in a child service agency that had child clients looking for adoption. CYFD still uses train rides once (or twice) a year to allow a meet and greet between children and prospective adoptive parents. Some children don’t want to be adopted and will tell the prospective parents so. Other children want very much to be adopted but families are leery of adopting a child that has severe traumatic history.

  23. My friend wrote a song a few years ago called Orphan Train, after watching a TV special about this.

    1. I’ve been an adoptee for 79 years, and am not surprised at the failure to address the long injustices–punishments for being unwanted or uncared for and otherwise traumatized. If you CARE, see right now that your state and your area adoption agencies have open records laws for adult adoptees and birthparents who want them! And also allow open adoptions, which avoid all the secrets and lies we have endured.
      Some, including me, regard international adoptions (while thousands of U.S. children wait!) as human trafficking. These helpless children are ripped from their languages, extended families, communities and cultures. That’s trauma, regardless of what follows.

      1. Most people don’t care, I have friends that have grew up in foster care, its was bad for everyone of them! Saying that I don’t take in foster and I know their is some great people out there willing to love someon eelses child and raise them the best they can, but its rare!

      2. Much of what you say could be very well true, and it is very sad that we have many children in foster care in the U.S. who need homes. However, there are children abroad who are in terrible circumstances, and are basically unadoptable in their own country. My brother and his wife have raised 4 kids, and will soon adopt 3 sisters from Haiti, older children. They became acquainted on a mission trip, and otherwise would not have thought to adopt. Without adoption, these girls will soon have to provide for themselves, in a 3rd world country, unlike the U.S.They will give these girls a better future.

  24. There are millions of people who are not liberals who can see that Trump is a criminal and a liar and has conflicts of interest that make him unsafe to be the president. Stop beliveing that all of the resistance is lliberals and democrats. Not so. There are decent people that don’t like the man because he is a monster plain and simple.

  25. You’re a pretty sad person. Obviously not well-educated. You can’t even put proper grammar into place.
    History is not always pretty but it happened.
    And get off the Trump wagon; I’m not a fan but he has nothing to do with this topic. Read the book. If you can.

  26. There is a new book, released a few months ago about the Orphan Trains. It is historical fiction and has really been getting great reviews.
    The Orphan Train Saga
    My wife loves this book!

  27. WWWOW Wow! Are we angry today! Looks like “stupid liberals” and “FOX news junkies” are hijacking an interesting article for their own political ego. Get a life folks! All we need is for both sides to get together and develop a strategy for dealing with this problem of poor folks at our borders. But maybe both sides want to keep that from happening so they have an issue for the next election. Just reading the response to this historical article shows such motivation!

    1. I’m with you Maud! Making everything in our awesome country into a political tug of war is so destructive! We’re discussing an historical event in the building of our nation. Not politics or politicians. Knock it off jerks. You’re ruining the sharing of an interesting historical event.

  28. I am the head researcher at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, KS. You have several of the sad tales of abuse and neglect. But these stories were the exception and not the rule. Eighty percent of the children who rode orphan trains had positive experiences. The placement agents came back to check on the children at least once a year to check on the children. Agent Anna Laura Hill found out that the Crook twins (Nettie and Nellie) were being abused and came back to remove them from that home. She placed them in the Enns home, where they were loved and cherished. They remained in the abusive home a very short time. More information is discovered daily about Orphan Trains and the children who rode them, much of it from researching on Please visit our website for more information.

    1. Thanks Lori Halfhide for the excellent info about your organization. I believe my husband’s grandfather was an orphan train child. The family story is vague about a family that “took he and his brother in” because they had no children. I’ll be checking out your website.

  29. There was no such thing during the time of the orphan Trains. That is what this article is about. Our HISTORY! Not current events.

  30. I had no idea about Orphan Train Riders until I stumbled upon a musuem in Opelousas, LA. They have wonderful displays, pictures, clothing, etc.donated by the families of the train riders. The musuemguides tell the story from leaving New York ophanage run by the Catholic Nuns to their arrival in St. Landry Parish. They even have a set of books with personal stories. Compelling

  31. Thank you Newspapers for this article, I have cousins who were on the train, it destroyed the whole, you see their Mother died, there were 8 children, the father could not care for them and did not want too, so 7 ended up on the train and 1 child was adopted by a family in Albany NY. We have been able to track them all down and add them and their children to our lines, but you can feel the deep hurt from these people, these cousins, I feel in many cases this was an awful thing. I am so sorry for 1 child right down to the last child who rode that train. Most know are in God’s hands and are really safe. Thank you again for the story, Ann

  32. I am sad that so many of the comments on this article have turned into a Trump-related rant, going both ways. Where is the site administrator? Do you have no standards for publishing comments?

  33. Although my mother didn’t ride the Orphan Train, she was sent to a farm in Oxford PA through the Philadelphia Children’s Aide Society as an infant in 1914 after her twin died. Her parents were immigrants. I would love to find out more about this agency.

  34. Thank you for posting the information. I don’t see any political rants, but am rather saddened that folks think things like an “orphan train” (or any thing) happens in a political vacuum. During this historical period, discrimination against immigrants, including Irish, Catholic, Italian, Eastern European, and Mediterranean immigrants, caused serious inequities in America and the reason so many orphans were in East Coast cities (not just NYC). In fact, if you’ll take the time to actually read through the newspapers of the period 1850 – 1930, you’ll see heated debates between newspapers in the same towns, run by publishers leaning in different political directions! In addition, often these “orphans” weren’t actually orphans (i.e., parents deceased), but children whose parents simply could not provide for them. Since there were no child labor laws and no social nets such as Social Security or Medicaid, charitable organizations took the forefront in handling these social issues; however, these charitable efforts were highly controversial and many other organizations were trying to get laws passed to better protect these children and their immigrant parents. Some people today seem to be annoyed by government programs of any kind, but they evidently forget that social programs run by the government help to avoid situations like the orphan trains. If we live in a society, then “politics” is involved.

  35. The man I knew as my Uncle Woody, came to live with my Grandparents’ farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on an Orphan Train. I suppose he was about 11 years old. He was separated from his sister who was about 8 years old, but my Grandparents encouraged him to write to her and to his father on Sundays. That’s right. He wasn’t an Orphan at all. His widower father was an Engineer on the Rail Road and left for 3-4 days a week. The children were thought to be living alone and the CAS took them away. I’m not sure where they went first, but it must have been pretty bad. The siblings stayed close, and Woody eventually joined the Navy, but before he deployed he went to see his sister in Texas. She was adopted by a family there with an older daughter. Woody fell in love with and married his natural sister’s adoptive sister, and when he deployed to Hawaii in 1943, his new bride went with him. She was hanging sheets on the line In a place called Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. They both survived to raise a son, who became a successful Dr. My Uncle Woody was Capt. Woodrow Wilson Havens, and he now lies in Arlington National Cemetery.

  36. My grandmother (1883-1955) was born illegitimately by my Italian Catholic immigrant great grandmother and a Jewish shop keeper’s son in New York City in 1883. The family lore is that she was put in an orphanage (don’t know if it was the NYC foundling home or not) and then at age of about 5 years (1888 ?) was put on an orphan train in NYC to the Midwest. In a small town in NE Iowa, she and several children arrived on the train and gathered in the town square for the local people to pick which child they wanted. She was picked by an older couple that also had older children. He was a farmer then owned and operated a bar in town and they lived across the street from the Catholic Church as the story goes. She was never formally adopted by them but took their last name. Not much is known before or after that but she is listed on the 1900 federal census as a daughter age 16 , place of birth is New York and occupation is SERVANT! She lived there until she met and married my grandfather (German immigrant) in 1909. They had 10 children one of which was my mother.
    My cousins and I have tried to find the name of the orphanage in New York City possibly Brooklyn but have not been able to at this date. We have not been able to find out her biological mothers date of death or burial place nor her biological fathers date of death or burial place.
    Thank you for writing all the info that you have and for allowing me to talk about what little we know of our families story of the Orphan train child known to me as my grandmother.

    1. Hi! Where was she in NE Iowa? Would you mind sharing names? My great-grandpa was adopted from an orphan train by a Catholic Fort Dodge farm couple, and the adoptive mother’s family also adopted 3 other children.

  37. I was
    fascinated by an obituary in the New Orleans paper several years ago about a 98 year old lady in the community, who had come to the area when she was 2 on
    an orphan train. This made me curious to learn more about these trains. Perhaps the most striking thing about the article was the quote, “as you know she was not one of us”. Well after 96 years, I did

  38. The Orphan Trains did not only go West they also went South. My father, a brother and two aunts were adopted from the New York Foundling Home and went to a small community in Texas. They were all children adopted separately from different parents. This community adopted about 5000 children.

    In the beginning children who were placed were “indentured”. Their documents literally said they were indentured to their adoptive parents. They could not be formally adopted until the age of 18 for girls and 21 for males. This was the case for my father and my aunts. My uncle died as a child in an epidemic and his adoption could not be completed.

    When my father and one of my aunts passed away we mentioned that they had been Orphan Train Riders in their obituaries.

  39. In researching, I discovered a boy whose last name didn’t match any other in the family on the census. He was listed as servant, also. He was living on a Tennessee farm.

  40. There is not a descendant that isn’t traceable. Truth is, the memory of each one has been retained and wherever they lived will be restored as promised by an oath and will bring to life a family reunion that is second to none and world-wide! All family history will be straightened out, back to man’s beginning. Be Thankful.

  41. There is a National Orphan Train Museum and Research Center located in Concordia Kansas. I have not been there myself but plan to in the near future. Website:

    The family of orphans can register and document their stories on this site.

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