Saturday, April 4, 2009

Orphan Trains

The Orphan Trains are a subject dear to my heart, for my mother was an orphan train rider. In the days when the trains were running, they were not called this. The term orphan train has been added through the years. This is a part of American history that few people know about, and it's really sad because a huge part of our population has an orphan train rider in their family, though they may not be aware of it.

Anyway, Thursday evening, my sister and I drove to Bowie, TX, where the Montague County Historical Society had a program about this time period in our history. From 1854 to 1929, these trains ran, bringing homeless orphans and half-orphans from New York to western states. Novelist and Humanities Scholar Allison Moore and singer/songwriter Phil Lancaster put on a marvelous performance for around fifty people who attended. Through music they wrote, audio-visual photographs and interviews with surviving orphan train riders, and a recitation from Alison's forthcoming historical novel about the Orphan Trains the speakers brought these children's stories to life.

Then my sister and I said a few words about our mother's journey from Brooklyn to Texas in 1922. We also met our "cousin" descendants for the family that were Mom's and her younger sister's foster parents. They were the friendliest bunch of people I've ever met and just treated us as if we were blood kin. One of the gentlemen is a veteran of WWII and is quite active in the Iowa Jima's Surivors of Texas Association. He's 92, I believe, and the cutest little man.

There are many good books written about the orphan trains. If you haven't read any, why not? I think you'll enjoy them. I'm working on one, loosely based on my mother's life, adding a lot of stuff because I know so little about her early life. As is true with many of the children, she seldom talked about her family in New York.

If you think you have an Orphan Train Rider in your background, contact me. I'd love to hear from you.

Happy reading and writing.


  1. My great-great-grandmother Mary Ferrigan Carroll adopted an orphan after she came to America from Ireland. She gave her her deceased daughter's name and completely hid her identity as an adopted orphan. She adopted her early in the 20th century in Iowa, so could she have ridden one of the trains?

  2. It's very likely, Jennifer. Let me know if you ever find out.