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The Orphan Train Riders

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  • Harry Dishman Davey (deceased)
  • Lillie Mae Filson (deceased)
  • Helen Marie Delaney (c.1907 - 1982)
    Birth: May 25, 1907 Death: Jan. 26, 1982 Council Bluffs Pottawattamie County Iowa, USA As the great Titanic sank to its watery grave, Helen Delaney was thrown overboard. Someone caught the 4-ye...
  • Charles James Frederick (1882 - 1962)
    Charles Frederick Orphan train rider Charles born in New York and only able to speak German arrived on an orphan train in Rockford on Sept. 6, 1888 age 6 and was taken in by an Irish farmers family...
  • Irma Craig (1898 - 1989)
    Irma Craig - Orphan train rider Irma Craig was born in Manhattan, New York City, 6-25-1898. She was an “inmate” at the New York Foundling Hospital from the age of 2 months until almost 3 years, when ...

The Orphan Train Riders

The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1853 and 1929, relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. The children were called the orphan train riders.

They put us all on a big platform in some big building while people came from all around the countryside to pick out those of us they wished to take home. I was four years old, and my sister was only two . . . Source: Marilyn Irvin Holt, “Orphan Train Genealogy,”

Aim of this project

About one in twenty-five Americans has an orphan train rider connection. The aim of this project is to identify the children who were part of the Orphan Train movement in the United States between 1853 and 1929 The secondary aim is to build the family-trees of the orphans where possible with natural parents and adoptive parents both listed. The children were from all nationalities and it has been said that one out of two children were Irish.

How can you help?

You can help by joining this project as a collaborator, to join click on the action button in the top right of the page and select join then after you joined you will be able to add profiles of the orphan children to this project.

Main institutions who offered help to the children

The institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850s, in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled “orphan trains” or "baby trains". This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America. Sometimes these sending institutions have records which show the names of the birth parents. Records of the transfers may be found at the city asylums that participated in the project or in the deed books of the courthouses of the counties that received the children. Deed books were commonly used to record the adoptions of children (usually males under the age of ten and young females) or the apprenticeships (usually males ten and over). But, do not overlook justice of the peace dockets, guardians’ records, county order records, and board of supervisors minutes, among other county records.

To learn about orphan train and adoption research try these Research Wiki articles:

Headfigures in the organisation

Some orphan train riders (orphans) stories

Forwarding institutions

Some of the children who took the trains came from the following institutions:

Online Sources and references

Reference books

  • Warren, Andrea. Orphan Train Rider - One Boy's True Story. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, 1996.
  • Patrick, Michael, Evelyn Sheets, and Evelyn Trickel. We Are A Part of History. Santa Fe N. Mex.: Lightning Tree Press, 1990.
  • Vogt, Martha Nelson, and Christina Vogt. Searching for Home: Three Families from the Orphan Trains. Grand Rapid, Mich.: Triumph Press, 1986.
  • Johnson, Mary Ellen (ed.) Orphan Train Riders: Their Own Stories, volumes I-V. Baltimore, Md.: Gateway Press, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996.