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Orphan_Train

In January 2012, I wrote an article about Orphan Train Riders in my family. Over the last month, I have learned that there was more to that story. To summarize, my great-grandmother’s brother, James William Goul, took in two young brothers, Clarence and Matthew Brown, who had ridden the Orphan Train from New York to Kansas.

One year after the last census James W. Goul appeared on (as he died a few years later), the Columbus Weekly Advocate located in Columbus, Kansas, reported on page 5 of the April 27, 1911 edition that a sister of the brothers had searched to find them. Her name was Anna and she lived in Elmire, New York. The boys (reported in the paper as Clarence and John Brown) were not orphans, and they had been”kidnapped from their home.” The newspaper also said that the brothers were inseparable and neither knew that they had an older sister who had been searching for them. I never found a follow up to find out if the brothers met their sister after being separated since before 1893, but if they did, I wonder what happened after that.

Historically, children who were transported on the trains from the east coast to the heartland, were true orphans or those who had been given up so they could have a better life and those children who were children of the street. Families who took in these children either did so because they really did want a child or because they needed labor for their farms. In the news article I referenced above, it is reported that J. W. Goul first picked the youngest of the two boys, Clarence. That leads me to believe that even though the farmer and his wife had a daughter and son, that they did want to provide a home for a new child. It was only after the young boy cried that he didn’t want his brother “taken away” that Mr. Goul took the older boy as well.

For more information about the Orphan Train: Washington Post article; PBS: American Experience; as well as a number of books written on the subject.

 

Orphan Train Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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The USA Today article, Orphan Train Riders, Offspring Seek Answers About Heritage, (posted 25 Jan 2012) by Judy Keen, describes the search that descendents of those who rode the Orphan Trains in the early 20th century find themselves on. They want to find out more about those train riders, their parents, siblings, and heritage. Even some of the Orphan Train riders themselves are searching.

While researching my own family history, I came across two brothers who rode the train from New York until they arrived in Columbus, Kansas and were adopted by James William Goul (my maternal grandfather’s relatives). J.W. Goul was born in Ohio about 1839 to John and Martha (McManaway) Goul.  James William was the 2nd to youngest brother of my 2nd great-grandmother (Malissa Goul). He married Mary McAdams (b. 16 Sep 1840) and they had Martha E. and George Edward Goul. Before 1894, the family moved to Cherokee County, Kansas.

The Star-Courier newspaper of Columbus, Kansas of June 21, 1894 mentioned that two young brothers who did not want to be separated from each other were taken by “one kind hearted man.”  These two brothers were Matthew and Clarence Brown of New York.  Matthew was born about 1887 and Clarence was about 3 years younger.  Both reported on the 1910 Census that their parents were born in Italy.    

Discovering there were Orphan Train riders in the family history, led me to find out more about these children and the reasons they were sent from New York to other parts of the country.  The short version of the “why?” includes the fact that these children were abandoned or orphaned so the Children’s Aid Society and New York Foundling Hospital decided these children needed homes somewhere else.  Children were sent to Canada and the other 47 states. Some were adopted while others were foster children. Others were made to be “servants” to whomever chose them.  Children were picked the same way that slaves had been a century earlier – checking their muscles, sturdiness, and temperament. Some were loved dearly while others were beat constantly.

There are many places on the internet to read the history and stories of the Orphan Train movement including: Orphan Train History (has many links included), Children’s Aid Society, PBS Documentary, Iowa GenWeb Orphan Train project, Orphan Trains of Kansas, and Adoption History: Orphan Trains. There are some videos: Orphan Train in Michigan and Orphan Train Movie (1979).

With all of the newly digitized records on free and subscription databases, I sincerely hope that the descendents of the “riders” will find the answers they so desperately seek.  Perhaps they will be the recipients of Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

Do you have Orphan Train riders in your family? Have you learned about where they came from? Did they remember their background and parents? Were they treated like members of the family upon their “adoption” or was their life very difficult?  And what about the family they left behind or were torn from? What is their story?

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