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Researching Orphans in Genealogy


New York City, The Colored Orphan Asylum, Boulevard And One Hundred And Fourty-Third Street., Digital ID 805105, New York Public LibraryNew York City, The Colored Orphan Asylum, Boulevard And One Hundred And Fourty-Third Street., Digital ID 805105, New York Public Library

If you have an orphan in your family tree, you may have to go through additional steps to find relevant genealogical records for the orphaned or adopted ancestor. Orphans originating in New York City are not uncommon because of the city's history with the Orphan Train movement.

From the 1850s to the 1920s, the Orphan Train Movement was an organized effort to transport children from overcrowded cities, such as New York City, to foster homes across the country. An estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children were relocated, particularly to 'pioneer' states such as Indiana, Kansas, and Nebraska, though the trains made stops in 45 states as well as Canada and Mexico. The beginning of the Foster Care movement, which grew out of the Orphan Train's "free-home-placing-out" idea, ended the Orphan Trains. Of course, not all children's care institutions took part in the Orphan Trains, and not all orphans were shipped out of New York City.

Brooklyn Orphan Asylum., Digital ID 2040780, New York Public LibraryBrooklyn Orphan Asylum., Digital ID 2040780, New York Public Library

To get started in researching an orphan in your family tree, use Genealogy Insider's Tips For Researching Orphaned Ancestors or Rootsweb's Guide for an Adopted or Orphaned Ancestor. Another helpful resource is Waifs, Foundlings and Half-Orphans: Searching for America's Orphan Train Riders by Mary Ellen Johnson; peppered with personal stories, this book is most useful for its research tips at the end of each section. Cyndi's List of Orphan Train Resources includes census resources and links to several localized Orphan Train Societies. The New York State Library: Genealogy for Adoptees website includes search strategy materials, helpful organizations, and information regarding open records searching for adoptions.'s First Steps Guide is generally aimed towards adoptees seeking birth parents, but also contains tips useful to genealogy research.

Hebrew Orphan Asylum, Amsterdam Ave., New York., Digital ID 836667, New York Public LibraryHebrew Orphan Asylum, Amsterdam Ave., New York., Digital ID 836667, New York Public Library

The New York charity institutions involved in the Orphan Train movement include The Children's Aid Society, the New York Juvenile Asylum (now called Children's Village), the New York Foundling Hospital, and the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York. The records of these various institutions are not all kept in the same locations. You can use Adoption Agencies, Orphanages, and Maternity Homes: An Historical Directory by Reg Niles, a state-by-state guide to help you identify a relevant agency. Once you have identified the potential agency or orphanage, search ArchiveGrid for the location of their records. The National Orphan Train Complex Research Resources has an address list of various local agencies for vital records and institutional records, includes the archival locations for most of the major NYC orphanages. Family Tree Magazine also compiled a list of Orphan Record Repositories. The NYPL holds the records of two orphanages: Howard Orphanage and Industrial School records and the Riverdale Children's Association Records (formerly known as the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City, the first institution in the United States dedicated to the care of African American children). Genealogical Resources in New York edited by Estelle M. Guzik also details the locations of many of the records of New York orphanages and children's care agencies.

For further information on the history of Orphan Trains:

Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York / by Renée Wendinger

Orphan Train Riders: A Brief History of the Orphan Train Era (1854-1929) / Tom Riley

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children he Saved and Failed / Stephen O'Connor

Orphan Trains & Their Precious Cargo: The Life's Work of Rev. H.D. Clarke / compiled by Clark Kidder

Journeys of Hope: Orphan Train Riders: Their Own Stories / edited by Mary Ellen Johnson

The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America / Marilyn Irvin Holt

The Orphan Trains [videorecording] / Edward Gray Films, Inc., WGBH

If you are interested in genealogy research in the Milstein Division, we are located in Room 121 of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. To get a better idea of our services, holdings, and genealogical methods, please explore the Conducting Research portion of our division's website, including our Frequently Asked Questions and blog posts, as well as links to free genealogical online resources. You can explore the library's catalog if you would like to search for specific holdings in the library collection.


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my grandfather we are told was found on a doorstep in 1888 in n.y.c.and adopted by a family who were quakers and lived in chealsea.Their name was whitmore hence the name. What do you think the chances are of finding out more about this adoption and the real name of his mother are.Would appreciate any input you would have. Thank you. David T Whitmore III

Grandmother: Orphan Train Rider

I am looking for info about my Grandmother, Marietta Axtell. She was born in New York in 1886 and put up for adoption in the New York Foundling Hospital. In 1888 at the age of two, she was put on the Orphan Tain to Lawler, Iowa. I made a promise to my Father that I would never stop looking for her biological parents. I am still searching. I promised. Her file number at the Foundling Hospital is #16648. What do I need to do. Sincerely, Patricia Callahan 707-771-1766

Searching bio parents

Saw your question posted on July 29. My grandfather was an OT child originally at NYFH . We have successfully found the family of his bio father through a DNA match. Still looking for his bio mother and her family.

Call the New York Historical

Call the New York Historical Society, Tammy is the contact in manuscripts. She was very helpful to me.

Patricia, I grew up near

Patricia, I grew up near Lawler, Iowa. I too am looking for my grandmothers information as she rode an Orphan Train in 1888 getting off in Westphalia, Iowa. Have you checked with the National Orphan Train Organization in Kansas. They are on Facebook Nancy Gibbons


My dad was born 8 Oct 1911 @ 53 Cherry Street to Julia Pettit Johnson. He was given up to an orphanage but do not know where in New York City or close to Cherry Street. Any help would be great!

Searching for names of great grandparents

My grandfather and his sister were placed in the Orphan Asylum Society of Brooklyn, NY in March of 1904. My grandfather was 3 and his sister was 4 at that time. Census reports list them both at the orphanage but no names of their parents. It lists the father as being born in NY and the mother born in Canada. My grandfather never said a word about his upbringing while he was alive. I just found this information through How would I go about getting records from the orphan asylum?


Larry Plac communicating through posting here. email: Trying to find any records or connection or pertinence dating back to 1950's and or 1960's, on my name above or namesake, or any similar names, family, surname, or any pertinent wordage used for name of any related names, of/or any related background in foster homes or orphanages, or any routine community environment in New York and Massachusetts. Or any region within that territory.

grandmother adopted from NY Foundling Home 1903-1904

Paternal grandmother adopted in 1903-4 from NY Foundling Home at under 1year old. Birth name Maureen O'Brien. Adopted name Martha D'Acunto. Any information or how to locate the adoption records much appreciated.

Know adoptive parents but unsure biological name

I know the names of the individuals who adopted my great grandfather in 1866. At age 14, he was told birth parents died immigrating from Ireland and told surname. He was not told of birth parents first names as may not have been know by adoptive parents. Have hit a brick wall researching numerous ancestry databases, emails etc and others are at the same brick wall. Looking for suggestions on how to use the adoptive parent info to get to child’s biological parents.

The Baby Thomas

My Grandmothers Baby brother Thomas was temporarily placed in the foundling after their Mother passed away- the foundling than notified Papa that the baby died- but we were later told he was adopted into a new family. We have been searching for years to get the truth- does anyone know where I can go/ who I can contact to find out what really happened!

Grandfather b. in 1920- adopted from NY by PA couple, Scot-Irish

I am trying to find out where my Grandfather was from. He was born in 1920, I know the date and adopted by Pearl Saunders and William Galloway, both of PA. He always said he was Scot-Irish. I would love to get more information, except I don't know how. Any help is appreciated-

ogdensberg orphanage

My grandfather was placed in the ogdensberg orphanage. as were all his brothers and sisters. Their last name was Aldous(Stephen/Bertha-parents) between 1910-1920. We, my mom and I are trying to find ANY information we can about why they were place there and exactly when. We understand that the orginal orphanage may have burnt down. Would the state of New York have any of these records, and how would we find them. Thanks

Saul Orphans, 1883

Looking for info on 5 orphans of Thomas and Bridget Saul who died in 1883 in Brooklyn,NY ( Sumpter St.)
I found my orphaned grandmother and her sister in Saint Mary’s Orphan Home in Binghamton, NY. Their parents were killed in an accident about 1890. Their name is Green or Greene, but I can’t find any records connecting them the girls. Would hope to get information to research their history.

Biological Mother

My name is Loreen Im in search of my biological mother . I was born on 10/22/1960 Her name is Mary Wall

James Steadman

My father was abandoned in NYC park in 1916-17 placed in New York Foundling Hospital for 2 yrs then moved to New York Juvenile Asylum (now called Children's Village), never adopted, ran away from orphanage about age of 15. Just notified by Ancestry on DNA match and in contact with DNA family. Searching for any information.

Grandmother Francis Savage

My grand mother was left at the NY Foundling Hospital by her mother Mary Savage in 1911 at 3 days old. Looking for Mary Savages' records.

Grandfather may have been in orphanage or foster home

I have been researching for my grandfathers parents over 20 years to complete my family tree. I had many researchers but no one could fine anything.No birth, marriage or death certificate.Rumors that he appeared out of no where and married my grandmother. Sarah Jane Shepherd. Supposedly came from Virginia, but one census said father from NC and one census from W Va. William (M)? Nuckolls born 3, Oct 1858 and died 12, May 1934. A possibility that he was in an orphanage or homeless and used another surname .Nothing is proven yet. Done DNA test but don't know who we are looking for.

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