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Once Upon an Orphanage

At one time, residing in an orphanage was something children were ashamed or embarrassed about. As adults, they spoke very little of the experience. Records can be difficult to locate, even if you know the name of the facility.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Val Laferriere
Word Count: 379 (approx.)
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At one time, residing in an orphanage was something children were ashamed or embarrassed about. As adults, they spoke very little of the experience. Records can be difficult to locate, even if you know the name of the facility. But orphanages can be the clue to an unsolved family tree mystery.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze of Olive Tree Genealogy (olivetreegenealogy.com) came across records while researching passenger ship lists. "I stumbled on a set of records for New York Almshouses that also contained immigration information. This would not normally be where one finds years of immigration and ships names."

In order not to lose those records, she transcribed them and put them on the Olive Tree web site. While transcribing, she wondered about orphans over the centuries. What happened to their care? Where are they recorded? Her curiosity led her to uncover the New Amsterdam (New York City) OrphanMasters records with other records to follow.

"I have had many emails from researchers who were thrilled to find a name of an ancestor, and others who are asking advice on finding their own orphaned ancestor," says McGinnis.

Most of the records she has uncovered date 1600-1800s for New York, Canada and a little of Europe, approximately 30 lists in her collection. Her transcriptions can be found at www.rootsweb.com/~ote/orphans/. She hopes to include more orphanages as more volunteers come forward.

Researching orphanage records can be a long and frustrating process. Here is a checklist of places to look:

  • Census records - to confirm the name, location and management of the orphanage.
  • Church - the local church, the diocese, the order of nuns or other governing body.
  • School board - not all orphanages served as a school. Some sent the orphans to the public school system and school records can be retrieved.
  • Municipal archives - City Hall and land title offices can yield information on the orphanage building, funding/grants and dates of operation.
  • State/provincial archives - Could hold all of the above information in their collection in addition to photographs.
  • Newspapers - Many stories were written in the last two centuries about the local orphanage. Their archives house these stories along with photos and histories.

Obscure records they are, but for many, locating orphanage records will tell the untold story of their ancestors and unlock the mysteries to an entire branch of the family tree.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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