Archive for September, 2013

September 25th, 2013

All Aboard the Orphan Train

The thing I like most about genealogy is that there is always something new to learn. Researching our ancestors puts us in touch with so many historical events and information we would probably not otherwise know. Something very interesting that I discovered recently was how orphans were placed on trains running out of New York City, and transferred to different areas around the country where they were put on display to prospective parents. Many were blessed with a wonderful new life with a loving family, but others were not so fortunate. Some disappeared along the way,; others went on to become prominent citizens and politicians.

The project of the Orphan Trains was the brainstorm of the Rev. Charles Loring Brace of the New York Children’s Aid Society. His idea was to move homeless and helpless children from the streets of the city to more family oriented rural areas around the country, specifically the west and mid-west. Before long other charitable organizations in New York and Boston joined the program, which by the end of the 19th century had spread to charities in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. It is estimated that between 1853 and 1929 that more than 200,000 orphans rode the trains.

On arriving at their destination, orphans were displayed very much in the manner that slaves were. This is revealed in the description relayed by one such orphan who rode the train. He said; “They put us all on a big platform in some big building while people came from around the countryside to pick out those of us they wished to take home.” This type of scenario was especially popular during the period between the civil War and the Great depression, when many became orphaned due to the death of one or both of their parents, or who were abandoned by parents who could not afford to care for them.

Of course, records were created in the process, and in the early history of the trains these records were generated in county courts by town and county clerks. Many were bound out to learn a trade, while those who were too young to work were sent to county institutions, usually maintained on a local level. Thus, county court records or probate records may provide the date that the child was apprenticed or institutionalized.

Orphanages maintained by state or local governments often kept better records than private agencies, and their records usually include:

  • Name of the child
  • Age of the child
  • Name of birthplace
  • Names of parents
  • Date of admission
  • Name of next of kin (if no parents)
  • Date of discharge
  • Name of person indentured to

These records are generally well maintained, and if the orphanage still exists, they can usually be found there. The records of state operated orphanages can be found in the state archives, or with the state’s Department of Social and Welfare Services. If you need to search for the records of an orphanage that operated privately or below state level, you may find them with the town, city, or county clerk. Local historical and genealogical societies may also be of tremendous help.

The information found in orphanage records can be critically important to the family historian. It is important to orphans seeking their birth family, and those trying to find relatives who were adopted by another family. A lifeline for adoptees in tracing their birth families is a registry known as The International Soundex Reunion Registry. It is a registry where by mutual consent, people who are either searching or would like to be found, can enter their personal information in order to be connected with those searching for them, and of course like all of our resources, it is free!

Read the rest of this entry »

September 18th, 2013

3 Fraternal Organizations Your Ancestor May Have Been a Member Of

How many of us think about fraternal organizations or benefit societies as a source of genealogical information? I’m not talking about college fraternities, but brotherhoods such as the Odd Fellows, Masons, Elks, and the Knights of Pythias. These groups were flourishing at the beginning of the 20th century, in fact about 85% of American males belonged to such a society at that time. These organizations often had an ethnic composition, so members had culture, language, and memories of their homeland in common; thus their popularity.

But companionship was not all that these organizations offered their members. They also sold insurance which covered sickness, disability, and burial, often at very affordable prices. They were also dedicated to caring for the widows and orphaned children of members, published their own newspapers, and sponsored classes that helped their members adjust to their new American community and way of life. Additionally they supported orphanages, homes for the elderly, and social and sports clubs. What does all this mean to the genealogist? Well, records were generated of course!

Following is a quick summary of three major fraternal organizations in the United States, what kind of records they generated, and where you might find them.

  1. Freemasons. The Freemasons are probably the most well known of fraternal organizations, not just in the United States, but around the world. Freemasons arrived on American shores from England in 1733, making it one of the earliest such organizations in the country. Freemason records are generally ion the form of Lodge records which may contain information on members such as; date of joining the organization, rank held, offices held, and so on. You may also find biographical documentation on prominent members, which can be found at individual lodges, a directory of which can be found at the Freemasons Website.
  2. Grand Army of the Republic. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was formed with the intention of cultivating friendship, comradeship, and patriotism among the Union veterans who had served in the US military (land or sea) during the Civil War. The GAR is responsible for establishing Memorial Day as an American national holiday. The GAR was a three-tired organization with positions held at local, county, and state level. Its primary duties were to protect and assist disabled soldiers and their families and to promote appreciation for those who served their country through social, moral, or political activity. They are an excellent go-to source if your ancestor was a Civil war veteran, and many of their records can be browsed online at the GAR Website.
  3. Modern Woodmen of America. The Modern Woodmen of America are an excellent example of a fraternal benefit society. They were founded in 1883 with a view to providing financial security to families across America from all walks of life. Despite its name the organization was not limited to those who worked in forestry or woodworking. The name was rather devised from a sermon that discussed “pioneer woodmen clearing the forest for the benefit of man.” There are two types of records that this organization offers the genealogist; business records of various units, and records of benefits paid. The latter group are of more interest to genealogists, as they obviously will include names. The Woodsmen have maintained records from 1884-1946, though access to them must be made by request via the Modern Woodmen Website.

Read the rest of this entry »

 Page 1 of 1  1