Orphan trains were a social experiment which transported the unwanted child and street kids from New York City, Boston, Chicago, and other crowded Northeastern cities to the Midwest U.S. for adoption. The genealogy of many of these 200,000 orphaned and abandoned kids who were moved to other 47 states between 1854 and 1929 can often be traced back to the Children's Aid Society, or the New York Foundling Hospital.
This is something I found quite amazing and almost never mentioned. For interesting reading and stories from the children (and of course, records -- perhaps of your missing relative), Google: "Orphan Trains."
Dee Notaro is an amateur genealogist based in Atlanta, Georgia (U.S.A.). Her own ancestral background is made up of a mixture of cultures, including her Irish forebears who hailed from County Sligo. Dee teaches classes on genealogical research and is passionate about helping others find answers to their ancestry questions.
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Robert Noonan is an author who wrote the "Orphan Train Trilogy." He moved from Chicago to a rural village near me to write. I met him at a newly-formed Writers' Group organized by a local newspaperman. He unfortunately was able to attend only the first meeting of the Group, because he was terminally ill at the time and passed away before the second meeting. I remember him telling us that his writing just flowed and he didn't have to outline or anything. He commented that his doctor had told him he was ready for Hospice when he came to our meeting. As sad as I am at his passing, I am glad I got to meet him and chat with him for a bit.
His books are available on Amazon.com
My grandfather George Reed came to Farley, Iowa on the orphan train from the New York Foundling Hospital and the catholic orphanage in New York City.
Not all of the children were orphans. Children taken from incompetent parents by the courts - children of hopelessly alcoholic parents, parents whe were deemed unfit, etc. were assigned to the Children's Aid Society and when the numbers exceeded their ability and facilities, they shipped them off to agrarian locales and were hosted by communities where mostly farm families were offered the opportunity to adopt these unfortunate children. As with any adoption, there were good and bad - and the Children's Aid Society probably did their best to screen applicants - and to keep siblings together where it was seen as appropriate. The 3 siblings in my wife's family were split up, two stayed near the same town, while the third was sent 300-miles away. The two who were near each other kept in touch - the third one saw them only a few times, and there was one occasion where they reunited with their sister who was old enough to have hired herself out as a housekeeper and stayed on the East Coast. It is one of those peculiar things in American history that is not cosmetically positive enough to have its history well documented.