Have You Checked for These Records? Part Two: Orphanage Records

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, we’re going to delve a little deeper into some of the records mentioned in that article. Records related to orphanages are covered in today’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. 
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 Comments 
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. 
  • 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.
  •  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 Soldiers’ Orphan Schools of 1895.
  • Check with the probate or surrogate’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. 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 “Orphans and Orphanages” 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 you’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 Information     

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

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
[email protected]. 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, “American Records and Research Course,”
    Instructor, “Midwestern U.S. Research and Operating a Successful Business”
  • 17 February 2007, Green Valley, Arizona
    Green Valley Genealogical Society

    Annual all-day seminar.


37 thoughts on “Have You Checked for These Records? Part Two: Orphanage Records

  1. http://www.orphantraindepot.com

    This website is another source for information about orphans “Between 1854 and 1929 an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed out in what is known today as the Orphan Train Era. The name is derived from the children’s situations, though they were not all orphans, and the mode of transportation used to move them across 47 states and Canada.

    When the orphan train movement began, it is estimated that 30,000 abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City.

    Two charity institutions, The Children’s Aid Society and The New York Foundling Hospital,determined to help these children.

    The aid institutions developed a program that placed homeless city children into homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains which were eventually labeled “orphan trains.”

    This period of mass relocation of children in the United States is widely recognized as the beginning of documented foster care in America.”

    I have quoted from the website rather than to paraphrase. I came across the web site while doing a little research for my son-in-law, whose grandmother who was an orphan train rider. In addition to all kinds of information, the society actually has 4 volumes of stories written by people who rode the orphan train. I found this grandmother by “googling” her name and her story is actually in one of the books. Even if there are no orphans train children in your family it is a very interesting site.

  2. My mother had told me she was raised in a Catholic Orphanage in Tampa, FL. Mother and her older sister was actually raised in the Tampa Children’s Home Orphanage. I was lucky enough to find my mother and her sister listed in the 1935 Florida State Census. From there I went with death certificate in hand to the sociey. It took 2 months to get records. The record consisted of 1 page with list of children, mothers brother and sisters. The name of my grandmother and that her husband died. (not true, he just left). (2) A letter from her baby sister trying to find her sisters in 1968. With those 2 documents I found my mothers sisters name and dates of birth, brothers name and date of birth, where they were born. The letter from the baby sister which I did not know existed found she had died, but her husband was still alive. I contacted him and he was so kind. We met at his sons home and exchanged information. Uncle David brought with him 3 boxes of pictures of the family. I now have pictures of my grandmother, and her daughters. I still do not have a picture of the son, and his family. They had moved away and he died, and they have lost touch with the wife and children. My uncle was kind enough to have home movies made into a VHS for me. I will forever be gratful to Uncle David Scott. Since then I have found my mothers family. This next year, I will be going to a Reunion in Alabama and meeting the rest of the relatives. I was helpful to my mothers family as my grandmother ran away from home and never went back. When I finally made contact with the family,( my grandmother Louise Evans Puterbaugh), no one really knew what happened to her when she ran away. She did not contact her family. There will be more to the story and I will continue until it is complete. I am sorry that I did not do this when my mother was still alive. She always wanted to know , why did my mother not want me? It is hard not to judge, but we really don’t know all the story and never will.

  3. My father, now in his 80s, was raised in the Masonic Widows & Orphans Home in Louisville, KY. A letter to the administration in the 70s brought a response from his (then retired) 5th grade teacher! Spring of 2006 my parents and I visited the facility (closed for years, but now reopened as a retirement facility). We did not know what to expect. Staff there showed us around, got out old newspapers put out by the school telling about the school year, etc., back in the years when my father was a student, did all they could to give us a sense of the place, found pictures from my father’s era, helped us locate my father’s & his brother’s admission papers (even made copies for us). All my life my father has turned in at 9:00-9:30 PM and risen very early (even in his retirement). We were given a school schedule from the years of my father’s tenure there and sure enough – 6:00 AM Rise, 9:00 PM Silence & lights out. The Masons (state & local levels in KY) have also been very helpful in helping me access whatever information they have in their records on my grandfather (1854-1925). My experience in contacting the children’s home & the Masonic organization has been most positve & rewarding in terms of family history research.
    Sharon Peach

  4. My great-great grandfather came over from Ireland just after the famine in 1852. While in transit his parent both died and were buried at sea. This is the way the story has been told. I have yet to confirm this or to find where this 11 year old was until I find him in the 1870 census (and one possible entry in 1860).

  5. My father, died in 1958, without know a thing about his birth family, with the exception of the family name NORWOOD.

    Walter and Alvena (Philbrick) HOWE of Roxbury , Maine, supposedly adopted him from an “orphanage on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine” about 1899. He was informed of this at the age of 21. Though the years he kept looking, and when he was trying to locate a birth Certificat to apply for Social Security. he found as I did with 2 professional reseaches that there was no orphange and that the city birth records and court records were destroyed in a fire c 1910. County records were alos burned in that fire.
    HE is listed on census 1900, as being George HOWE, age 4 in the HOWE family homestead. My question, is NOW WHERE DO I TURN???
    my sister and I have been searching of over 25 years.

  6. We are searching for information on Canadian ‘Home Boys’ c.1880. My husband’s grandfather was said to be a Home Boy raised on a Reid farm in Wheatly, Ontario. Where can I find information? We have no birth or death date.

  7. I have two cousins who were raised in an Orphanage in Dunkirk, New York. Their names are Richard and Clarence Kackermeyer. Their Father’s name was Joseph. That is all I know of him. Their Mother was Donna Wilbur Kackermeyer, born in 1890 died in 1920. Clarence was born in 1915, died in 1977. I have no information about Richard. They were in orphanage in Dunkirk in the 1920s & 1930s.

  8. My father in law was born at the Florence Crittenden orphanage in Spokane, Washington. I wish to find records on his birth. His name was Julius Fitzgerell or maybe Fitzgerald. His mother was named Ruth Adams. He was born June 1914 (ca).

    Any assistance would be appreciated.

    Jill Mallery Hall
    Roseburg, OR

  9. Per this thread. In some communities, such as in New England-the towns had pauper records/poor farms, etc. that were kept with the town records. In Western Massachusetts, for example the town would keep these records and report expenditures for maintenance at town meetings. The records would include names and causes….somewhat like this:

    Pauper record for 1842…..

    (amounts in pounds/shillings…..to James Smith for the board and training of Amy Stone, age 10 from May to September.

    ……To James Smith for the room and board of the Widow Hastings after the fire at her home on 4 April to her death on June 14th of erysipelas.

    …..presented to the town for disposition of the three children of Deacon Hastings after the death of Maria Hastings. Per the town council, Jonathan age 12 will be apprenticed to the Honorable Rev. Jones for a period of nine years at the rate of …….per year to be paid by the town. Maryann, age 7 and Leann age 7 will be taken in by Deacon Harris at the rate of …..per year.

    These are fictional, but examples of the type of records that can be found in town/parish records. Church records often list deaths from disasters, like floods and fires, disease, etc. along with baptism, marriage and death records. The records of church groups will often have mention in minutes of goods issued to families in need, prayers for the illness or death in a family, funeral dinners etc. These are also good places to check, as are local newspapers of the period

    Best of Luck in your searches

  10. I have exhausted the state, county, and city sources trying to locate the orphanage/poor farm that my father and his two sisters were placed in following their mother’s death in 1915.

    At the time she died, they were in or near Paris, Lamar County, TX. and the children remained in the orphanage for almost ten years. Their names were Harry Clyde, Hazel and Letha Tiffee.

    Any help/suggestions appreciated.

    Bill Tiffee, Silverton, OR

  11. I have hopes of finding my husbands mother, who was adopted by Ralph and Ida Mae Ray. Helen Irene Ray was born January 9, 1902. Birth county Pharma or Ingham County. Pharma, Lansing, or Albion Michigan. Searching for her birth parents. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  12. I know my grandfather was put in some kind of home for troubled boys. I was young when I find this out and now I can’t find the name or anything about it. I do know it was either in Johnson City or Binghamton NY. hope someone can help me

  13. Looking of infomation on albany County orph. Can anyone help on were this information could be?

  14. Have relatives that were in Buffalo,NY orphanges for a time. Father Bakers, Father Walsh. Looking for last names of McGillicuddy, and Burns. Can anyone help?

  15. This is definitely worth the effort to research! Once I realized I had been looking in the wrong location (birth city vs where mother died) I was able to find the “Record of children received into the Oxford Orphan Asylum” in NC for my grandfather. Not only did I find out the day he was admitted, I also found out when he left the orphanage, where he went, what job he had taken. But the most interesting information was that he had a “rather domineering disposition” just as my mother & aunts had described him.

  16. Searching for information about relatives named Lentzkow at the Lutheran Orphan’s Home in Waverly, Iowa about 1900 – 1915. Would anyone have information how to access those records?

  17. I was so interested in the comments, I have been searching for the birth parents of my husbands mother. She was adopted at birth. As I was reading I was so surprised and happy to see my email about my search for Helen Irene Ray. Her adoptive parent were Ralph and Ida May Ray, Irene (the name she usually used)was born January 9, 1902, in Michigan near Lansing,Pharma Coounty. Married Daniel M. Leonard. Died July 2,l932 in Torrence CA. I am very hopeful that some will see the notice and have some information for my family, especially my sister in law. Who was six at the time of her mothers death. And has wonderful memories of Helen Irene and has wanted to know about her mothers family for so long. Thank you so very much, God Bless.

  18. my mother was born jan 8 1917 in louisvile ky. her name was ruth wade she was put in the kentucky chidren,s home society. she was adopted in april 28 1920 by grace roberts hubbell and raynor hubbell i have been looking for anybody that knows anythag about her real moyher and father

  19. Searching for John McGuire dec. 1927, James, Jane McGuire children of Fannie McDonald 1850-1892 and John McGuire 1848-1902, left at an orphanage with hospitalization of their mother.

  20. # 6 from Sylvia Ried askes how she can find her husband’s grandfather c 1880 working on a Ried farm in Wheatly Ontario.
    Looking at the boundary lines of Ontario counties I would say Wheatly could be in either Essex or Kent County.The Branch addresses for these two counties are as Follows:

    Essex County–Box 2, Station A, Windsor, On., N9A 4H0 Canada
    Meets: 7.30 pm, 2nd Mon. except Jul, Aug, at
    the Windsor Public Library, Quellette St., Windsor

    Kent County–Box 964, Chatham On., N7M 5L3 Canada

    Regent covered: Chatham, Kent
    Meets: 7 pm, 2nd fri. monthly except Jul and Aug at The Wish Centre, King St., E. Chatham
    Contact: Wilson Kerr, (1 519 352-7922.E-mail:
    Library: Chatham Public Library, Mon to Sat, 1 to 5.

    Could you please pass this on to Sylvia Ried, as someone at either of these Ontario Genealogy Branches may be able to help her. Thank You

  21. My father was found abandoned in an office building in August 1927 (4 blocks from Bellevue). He was taken to The Children’s Aid Society and his picture was circulated in several New York city papers. He was wearing a blue wool suit and button shoes; he was judged to be approximately 14 months old. No one claimed him and he was placed into foster care with the Kanes — they adopted him in 1929. We assume that he was Jewish as he was already circumcised and some general physical features (Ashkenazy). I have submitted my DNA to see if there are any Y-chromosome markers that may link him/me to any particular families. Any help is appreciated. (he is still alive and kicking!!) [email protected]

  22. For Beth Armisread who posted a message about Ruth Wade being adopted by Raynor Hubbell & Grace Roberts. Ruth Wade was born January 8, 1917 Louisville, Kentucky. Please contact me at [email protected] for info parents names

  23. I read, with interest, the article above regarding someone looking for any information about their relative who was raised, back in the late 1920,’s, early 1930’s, in the Masonic Widows & Orphans Home in Louisville, KY.
    My Father and his two younger brothers were placed there, in that time frame, but I have no idea as to the first step to take in obtaining any information at all as to their life previous to the home. Can you help me, please?
    Thanks in advance – Brenda Hayes

  24. milton and cordie had a baby girl on jan 8 1917 in louisville ky. her name was ruth wade. she was put up for adpotion.she was put in kentucy cildren home society. she was adopted out april 28 1920. any body knows anythang about her parent are if she had any sister are brothers
    email me at [email protected]

  25. milton and cordie wade had three girs in the 1920 census. godie and rubie and ruth . ruth was adopted out in april 20 1920 to raynor and grace hubbell she was put in the kentucy childern home society . anybody knows anythang about her siters
    please contact me at [email protected]
    thank you beth armistead

  26. My mother Esther Robinson born in 1925, at a later age I think at age 8 maybe 9 was placed with the Nash family in Maine, she said her mother was Indian (passamaquaddy). Mary Nash was the foster parent. any info would be appreciated.

  27. hattie and elliott Haywood from Carter Co. Ky. had several of their children placed in orphanage in Louisville, KY. aprox. in 1909 . My father was raised by Frank and Betty Crull . He was a foster child.He was told when he was about 40 that he was “adopted”…His name Anywas Fred F. Crull . I found his bio parents after his death .Elliot was a coal miner . Any info anyone has on the Haywood family would be appreciated .

  28. So, what about the paranormal stuff going on in the orphanage?What happens aroung the area, especially around the grave? I saw ‘Children of the Grave’ last week and it discused things like how the children were burried with numbers instead of names and that the newborns usually died because of diseases in the milk and they always died because their emmune system hasent built entirely yet.Also,what kinds of other things happened to the children while being in the orphanage that caused them to haunt the old bulding and the area??

  29. I’ve only recently received information from The New York Foundling Hospital about my grandfather Joseph Dernier. He was born in Manhattan in 1892. His records suggest that the birth date given, February 15, 1892, is the date of his admission to the Hospital. I don’t know if his name is genuine or if it was given to him by the nuns. The records are extremely sketchy, saying only that the baby was found in the vestibule of the building. Whoever made the notation must have known the mother at least by sight since the record states that she had come to the Hospital several times but “refused, saying she was married.” In 1985 my grandfather was “placed out” to Sarcoxie, Jasper County, Missouri, to an older couple, Martin and Mary Kearney. Some time after 1900 Joseph Dernier began using the Kearney surname. I know I should be grateful for this much information, but I had these wild hopes that there would be at least one parent named and some indication of nationality. Joseph John Dernier Kearney ultimately moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and married Mary Browne, who had come to America from Caherduff, County Mayo, Ireland. They had five children. One of those children still survives, my mother Rosemary Kearney Heitert. If anyone is familiar with the Dernier surname and can point me in a new research direction, I’d be most grateful. Please contact me at [email protected]

  30. My ancestors were raised in an Orphan Home called St Marys in Binghamton, New York, back in the 1930’s.

    I have just started my family Geneology research but it is interesting what I have learned.

    Just by reading information on this web site I have become further educated on what more I can do to find out records on my ancestors.

    My ancestors were “the Knickerbockers”. I already know their names but believe the majority of them are deceased.

    My Mother is still alive and is now 78 years old. For her sake, I would love to know why her siblings were all placed in this Orphanage home.

    If there is anyone searching for more information on the Knickerbockers in that home during that time period, please email me at [email protected]

  31. The week prior to Christmas 1953 my sister and I were left in the care of neighbors in Tampa, FL while our mother went off on some “important trip”. She never returned and we spent an unpleasant holiday at the neighbor’s. Subsequently, we were placed in the care of the State of Florida for a brief period before being placed on a train and sent to our grandmother in New York. I have been unable to locate any information about the Florida (Tampa) orphanage, or what is more interesting, the local Tampa Police and the sheriff have no record of a missing person. It would seem to me that the state would have required some compelling reason to take the two of us in custody, but that seems not to be the case. Our mother’s name was Marjorie Adele Moore (nee Ring). I’d like to find any records from the orphanage in Tampa, and of course, info on our mother’s disappearance.

  32. IS THIS YOUR FAMILY MEMBER! Uncle Chester Roy Dodge born Sep 20 1916, to Reuben and Agnes Jones Dodge, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Placed out into the foster care system in abt 1922. His name was changed as was the custom, but he was never legally adopted.

  33. This post is concerning Marjorie Moore, we are looking into the information that your brother provided to the St. Petersburg Times (Jim Moore). Do you have a photo of your mother by any chance?
    Contact me at [email protected]
    (We are strictly a volunteer organization)

  34. Recently I discovered that relatives of mine were placed in St. Mary’s Orphan Home in Binghamton, NY between 1920 and 1930. They were the children of Mary Bayne, Frances and Mildred. In 1930 Frances was 11 and Mary was 13. Mary’s maiden name was Lynch. Her husband’s name was Frederick Ernest Bayne, from New York City. Any information on these children would be appreciated. They would be my aunt and uncle.

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