Last week’s column began the story of the orphan trains — how impoverished children living in crowded eastern cities were sent west on trains to be adopted or “placed out” with rural families to work as farm hands or domestics. Over a 76-year period, between 1853 and 1929, charitable organizations like the Children’s Aid Society of New York, the New York Foundling Home, and the New England Home for Little Wanderers in Boston gathered orphaned or impoverished children off the streets or out of institutions and transported them to farms in the west. Nearly 250,000 children rode the trains, and it is estimated that one in twenty-five Americans has a connection to a rider. Many of these children had their names changed after arrival in their new state.
There doesn’t seem to be a centralized location to search for the names of these orphan train riders, but a number of state projects have collected information and made it available online:
Indiana. The South Bend Area Genealogical Society (https://www.sbags.org/orphantrain.htm) has an online database that can be viewed by either the birth surname or the foster surname. The site includes the birth date and place and details about both the birth and foster families.
Illinois. This interesting site (https://rgridley.wixsite.com/orphantrainmap) has a map of the entire midwest with a location pin showing each town where orphans were dropped off. Click on the pin and get the names and travel dates of the orphans. This is not all-inclusive. Another site called West by Orphan Train (http://westbyorphantrain.com/orphan-train-map/) has a similar map posted also with partial information. Both maps should be checked because they contain different information. The Hancock County, Illinios, Historical Society (https://www.hancockcountyhistory.com/orphan-train) has also posted a list of the orphan train riders coming to the county.
Iowa. The Iowa GenWeb site, “Placed Out in Iowa” (http://iagenweb.org/history/orphans/riders/index.htm) has an alphabetized list of orphans brought to Iowa, including the orphan’s name, family where placed, town, and date. Also notice additional links at the bottom, including “Index of Children of Orphan Trains from New York to Illinois and Beyond.”
Minnesota. At the site Orphan Train Riders of Minnesota (http://www.orphantrainridersofminnesota.com/) scroll to the very bottom of the page where there is a button called “Riders.” Click on each link to view alphabetical lists of names with personal details.
Missouri. View a messy but detailed list of some Missouri riders at http://files.usgwarchives.net/mo/misc/bios/orphantn.txt.
Nebraska. This RootsWeb site (https://sites.rootsweb.com/~neadoptn//riders.htm) has a partial list of Nebraska riders, A-L. Don’t forget to click on the next link for M-Z, and then the Orphan Train Link for more historical information.
Kansas. The Kansas Collection site (http://www.kancoll.org/articles/orphans/or_child.htm) has a list of train riders arranged by year, then name, town, and sponsoring family.
Wisconsin. The RootsWeb site (http://sites.rootsweb.com/~wiorphan/trainlist.html) lists 25 trains that brought children to the state by location and date and number of children, but does not list the individual children by name.
Michigan. Reportedly has an Orphan Train Rider Registry in development that has not been completed or placed online.
Last but not least, Ancestry.com has a searchable database of the children placed in the New York Foundling Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society between 1855 and 1925. These are two of the sources of many of the orphans sent west. This can be found at https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/61639/.