Tracking down orphan train riders can be difficult. We’ve compiled some of our favorite resources, such as family tree sites, archives and museums, and orphan train research groups, to help you in your search.
Family Tree Sites
Family Tree sites are a good place to start your research. They allow you to build a virtual family tree, and search for and save vital records. Many of these sites allow you to access public records such as censuses, marriage certificates, draft cards, obituaries, or ship manifests. Many of these sites share records, so pick the one you find easiest to use. Keep in mind though, many of these sites are public and family trees can be edited by anyone, so some records may be incorrect.
Ancestry – Ancestry is home to 100 million family trees and allows you to view 27 billion records. They also offer DNA services. Basic functions are free, but more advanced searches may require a membership. (NOTC Head Researcher’s Pick)
FamilySearch – Family Search is free to use and gives you access to billions of records. They also offer online help 24/7 and have over 5,000 in person family history centers across the world. Additionally, they have online images of our collection of records from the American Female Guardian Society. (NOTC Curator’s Pick)
Newspapers.com – Some orphan trains were written about in local newspapers. Orphanages, such as the New York Foundling Hospital or Children’s Aid Society, also were frequently mentioned in newspapers. Newspapers.com is the largest online newspaper archive and is a great place to find more information about your family members or about the orphan train movement in general. Newspapers.com does require a subscription.
American Ancestors – A wonderful site for researching birth families of orphan train riders. They have digitized town and church records from the New England area.
Find A Grave – Find A Grave is the world’s largest gravesite collection. If you are looking for your ancestor’s headstone, they probably have it! You can also link memorials, photos, and virtual flowers to any grave.
Rootsweb – Features family trees, message boards, and works with Ancestry and Find A Grave.
FindMyPast – FindMyPast allows you to import your family tree from other sites so you don’t have to start from scratch. Their records begin in the early 1700’s. They also offer DNA services.
Libraries, Archives, and Museums
Local libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums often keep records of local newspapers, photographs, or other items to help you learn more about your orphan train rider. Below are some places we think could be helpful for many researchers, but don’t forget to check your local resources too!
Louisiana Orphan Train Museum – If we don’t have records on your orphan train rider, the orphan train museum in Louisiana might! They focus on orphan train riders who came to Louisiana by way of the New York Foundling Hospital.
Ellis Island Passenger Database – Many orphan train riders passed through Ellis Island with their families before they were orphaned. This database allows you to search passenger records and ship manifests. You must register to search, but it is free.
National Archives – The National Archives have copies of all federal records and are especially great if you are looking for military records.
US Gen Web Project – Allows you to search state records. Click on the state you are researching and then click on the specific county. Each county has their own home page and the information it has depends on what information has been submitted to them. Individual submitted information.
Vital Records – The CDC’s helpful guide to finding vital records in every state.
New York State Vital Records – Use this link to request vital records from New York state.
New York City Department of Records – Great for historic and governmental records for the city of New York.
OurPublicRecords – Provides resources, tips, and links to newspaper databases.
New York Juvenile Asylum – Clark Kidder, a long time researcher and friend of NOTC, has photographed and indexed many of the NYJA’s records. If he doesn’t have what you need, try the University of Columbia, which holds all the original records, or the Children’s Village (formerly the New York Juvenile Asylum).
New York Foundling Hospital – The NYFH is still in operation today! If you are looking for adoption forms, birth certificates, or other orphanage records from the NYFH, you’ll need to contact them directly.
Children’s Aid Society – The CAS is also still in operation. If you are looking for adoption forms or other orphanage records from the CAS, you’ll need to contact them directly.
American Female Guardian Society – NOTC owns many of the original orphanage records from the AFGS Home for the Friendless, and they are available online through FamilySearch. Visit this page for instructions on accessing the Home for the Friendless records.
Brooklyn Home for Destitute Children – Now known as Forestdale Inc.
The Home for Little Wanderers – Contact them directly for any records.
New York City Orphan Asylum – All records from the NYCOA are held at the Westchester County Historical Society.
New York Infant Asylum (1871-1909), Nursery and Child’s Hospital (1859-1905), or the New York Nursery and Child’s Hospital (1909-1934) – All records from these institutions are held by the Weill Cornell Medicine Samuel J. Wood Archives.
Home Children Canada – Home Children Canada is a nonprofit dedicated to cataloging information about Home Children, who were sent from the United Kingdom to Canada in a system similar to the orphan train.
Genetic Genealogy and Descendant Groups
Researcher Jennifer Bates – Jennifer Bates is the granddaughter of orphan train rider Sophia Kaminsky and the daughter of historian Renee Wendinger. Jennifer specializes in understanding how matches on genealogy sites like Ancestry and 23 & Me are connected through DNA. Using DNA she establishes the blood relationship between matches. This process often helps identify missing pieces in a family tree, and in some cases, helps identify an unknown parent. To hire, please contact Jennifer at https://theorphantrain.com/genealogy
Orphan Train DNA – A Facebook group full of people seeking to fill in the gaps in their family trees through genetic genealogy.
British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association – A Facebook group full of helpful friends researching British Home Children, who were transported from the United Kingdom to Canada.
New York Orphan Train Riders of Minnesota – A Facebook group dedicated to preserving the memories of orphan train riders to Minnesota.
Descendants of the Orphan Train – A Facebook group for people to share their orphan train rider’s stories.