by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
In Part One of this series, we looked at some records that tend to be overlooked by many researchers. As promised, weâ€™re going to delve a little deeper into some of the records mentioned in that article. Records related to orphanages are covered in todayâ€™s edition of this continuing series. Although I am writing from the viewpoint of U.S. records, much of this relates to orphanages in other countries too.Â
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Who Lived in Orphanages?
Children who were truly orphaned by the death of both parents needed a place to live and not all were taken in by neighbors or relatives. Many were sent to orphanages. Other residents of orphanages were children who had lost only one parent or whose parents could not raise them. Others were children who had been abandoned and the parental situation may not have been known. There may be files on the children, cemetery records for the parent(s) or children, or data on whether the child left the orphanage.
What Might the Records Hold?
Though the records will vary from place to place, many will provide some excellent family details. You may find:
- Date of admission
- Reason admitted
- Names of parents, if known
- Names of siblings, if known
- Birth information
- Notes on behavior, illnesses, physical traits
- Religious affiliation
- If the county or town are providing funds for the child
- If the child was sent to work in the community, and where
- Date of leaving the orphanage and why (reached a certain age, death, adopted, in foster home, etc.)
I Can Already Hear Your CommentsÂ
As I said, the records do vary. Not all of us are fortunate enough to find the record with the mother-lode of information noted above, but some of you will. And yes, not all the records may exist today or there may be restrictions on their usage. But, you will never know all this unless you try to track them down.
Types of Orphanages and Their Records
These are just some of the types of orphanages you may find in the area where your family resided.
- Government facility. Check to see if the institution still survives in some manner. It may have a different purpose and a radically changed name. The records might still be at the facility or they may have been transferred to a county, state, or federal archive. Government records are generally archived or destroyed according to a retention schedule as all records are not necessary to the ongoing business of the city, county, or state.Â
- Organizational. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows is just one organization to sponsor orphanages for the underprivileged. The records may be in private hands, with the organization, or thankfully, might have been given to a historical society.
- Â Religious. Check to see if there is an archive for that religious denomination or maybe for the order of nuns who ran the Catholic orphanage. Jewish orphanages abounded and an attempt to list them is found at the website, Jewish Orphanages in the United States.
- Military connections. You may find institutions set up for orphans of soldiers, especially after the Civil War. One online source is A Roster of Children in the Pennsylvania Soldiersâ€™ Orphan Schools of 1895.
- Check with the probate or surrogateâ€™s court for any guardianship records for minors. They may detail that a child was sent to an orphanage. Many are available via the Family History Library.Â Other children were simply left at the place.
- City directories often have lists of orphanages in that city. Check for these in larger libraries and historical societies and also via the Family History Library.
Access to the Records
You may need to prove that the sought-after person is an ancestor or other family member. Many record keepers also require proof of death for the person whose information is requested. Some repositories have restrictions on such records until they are at least fifty or seventy-five years old. If a website or holdings catalog is not clear about this, check via e-mail or telephone.
Finding Such Records
- Check the websites of state archives, university special collections, and historical societies for online catalogs or inventories of records.
- Check the Family History Library Catalog using keyword searches or look for the categories of â€œOrphans and Orphanagesâ€ under the state, county, or city name.
- In a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo!, type in the name of the place and the word orphanage, or the specific name of an orphanage, to see if there are online record abstracts, indexes, or historical background.
- Check for a county or town website and see if it covers researching older records. E-mail or call to verify if they still have the type of record youâ€™re looking for and to see what their access guidelines are.
- Historical and genealogical periodicals may supply you with the historical background of an orphanage and location of records. Use the PERiodical Source Index for a subject index to thousands of these.
- The USGenWeb carries some orphanage record indexes or abstracted details for certain counties.
- Check The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy for additional help.
For Additional Interesting Orphanage InformationÂ Â Â Â Â
- Oklahoma Orphanages
- American Local History Network
- Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
This site lists the names of orphanages over the years and, if known, where the records are housed today.
- St. Louis Protestant Orphans Asylum 1834â€”1940
- A RootsWeb mailing list on Orphanages
- State Library of Queensland (Australia)
- Rhode Island State Home and School Project
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About the author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at PSWResearch@comcast.net. Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. She will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e., Davenport, IA).
Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)
- 8-12 January 2007, Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Utah Genealogical Association
Coordinator and Instructor, â€œAmerican Records and Research Course,â€
Instructor, â€œMidwestern U.S. Research and Operating a Successful Businessâ€
- 17 February 2007, Green Valley, Arizona
Green Valley Genealogical Society
Annual all-day seminar.