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Your weekly reference question

How long did the Orphan train run?

The Orphan Train Movement lasted from 1854 through 1929. In that time, approximately 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children were put on the so-called "Orphan Train" and were relocated to the American West. The Children's Aid Society thought that in this way, these children might gain new families while helping out the pioneers who were settling the frontiers.

The train stopped in 47 states and in Canada. At each stop, townspeople who were interested would gather to inspect the children, and take home those they thought to be likely candidates. After the children had successfully completed a brief trial period, they would become indentured to their host families.

While this program is widely thought of as the beginning of documented foster care, it was not without controversy. Interestingly enough, the controversy came from both sides of the abolitionist movement. Many abolitionists believed that the children were ending up being slaves to their host families, while those who advocated slavery saw it as an outgrowth of the abolitionist movement. After all, who would need slaves when these children provided labor that made slaves unnecessary?

Because there were a large number of children who went west on the Orphan Trains, some genealogists have had problems tracing the ancestry of their relatives who may have hailed from the Orphan Train Movement. There are some resources available for those who are attempting to follow the ancestry of those children. Since so many of them came originally from New York City, many of these resources are from the city.


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