02 December 2013

Orphan Train Riders -- Challenging and yet satisfying research!

Source: The Orphan Trains (PBS), http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/images/boysontrain.gif

I was unaware of this particular bit of history until I stumbled across Orphan Train Riders to Iowa.

Children 'placed out' during the Orphan Train Era (1853-1929) and their descendants have particular research problems.  We hope to educate you a bit on this subject and help you further your research on any ancestors you may have that came to Iowa on one of the infamous Orphan Trains.

A Wikipedia page on the subject states ...

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 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children ... This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America.

This effort met with mixed success – some children became enslaved, abused or rejected and others went on to great achievements.  Regardless of where this “new” life took these children, many never saw birth family members again.

Those relocated on the Orphan Trains also present interesting and challenging genealogical research issues.  Older children might have remembered/retained information about their birth family.  What of younger children?

Learn more about this era via:



Are there Orphan Train children in your family tree?  Please share their story!
Were you able to determine birth parents?
Did you use DNA testing as a tool?
What research resources did you find most helpful?


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