The Complex web site located at National Orphan Train Complex, Inc. offers a variety of resources for genealogists interested in Orphan Train research. The Complex will also research, for a fee, names of potential orphan train riders. The web site includes actual stories of Orphan Train riders, history of the Orphan Train movement, and links to other useful sites.
The Orphan Trains were so named because children who were without parents or families willing or able to care for them were placed on trains and sent across 47 states and Canada to find homes for adoption. The Orphan Trains began in 1854 and continued until 1929. The movement was created by the Children's Aid society and The New York Foundling Hospital. When it started, New York City had an estimated 30,000 abandoned children living on the streets. A very poignant glimpse into the history of New York Foundling can be found at http://www.nyfoundling.org/pdfs/NYTimes.pdf.
These children were told to break all ties with their families and not to try to contact them. Many children were never officially adopted by their receiving families and became little more than indentured servants. Some even suffered extreme forms of abuse. Many of the Orphan Train riders faced legal and societal difficulties due to the fact that they did not have birth certificates. More stories of the individual riders themselves can be found at http://www.orphantrainriders.com/riders11.html
The children went to many states; a good number of them went to Plains states such as Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska where farming was common place. An interesting web site about the Nebraska Orphan Trains is at Orphan Trains Of Nebraska.
It is estimated that around two million people are descended from an Orphan Train rider. The genealogist searching for an Orphan Train ancestor may face some challenges in trying to find records. Remember that if a child was formally adopted by his receiving family, the adoption records may be sealed or protected. However, do not let this deter you from attempting to find your ancestor. There are many resources available for the genealogist in the form of web sites, books, and now the National Orphan Train Museum to help researchers in their quest to find their ancestor.
If you have never done any research into the Orphan Trains, I encourage you to do so for your own education and to give you a glimpse into a different avenue of life during this era. I have found it to be an eye opening experience and it will give you a deep appreciation for those individuals who endured their circumstances to become the ancestors of over two million people of our country.