Genealogy for adoptees can be a difficult journey. A train ticket from 1856 and one of our most popular Genealogy Gems Book Club titles helped one woman solve an adoption family mystery. Here’s her story.
Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Adoption Mystery: Solved
I recently read an article that I just had to share! Julia Park Tracey’s two-times great grandfather, William Lozier, was adopted. She wanted to trace his family history. Her only clue was the receipt for a train fare from New York’s Home for the Friendless to Oberlin, Ohio that William had. The ticket cost $7.50 and was dated 1856.
With a little bit of easy math, Julia realized that William would have been a three-year old at the time. Can you imagine? Julia was intrigued by the finding, but didn’t think much more about it until she read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This piqued her curiosity about Williams’s story and she started researching. What she found was an astonishing story of family struggling to stay together during the hardships of 19th century life.
Along her research journey, Julia learned that William’s mother was widowed in upstate New York in 1848. Consequently, the woman lost the family farm and needed to give up her two oldest boys to an orphanage. She managed to hold on to her oldest daughter and baby William while she worked as a seamstress. Sadly, she still couldn’t make ends meet and ended up placing her last two children in an orphanage as well.
Julia explains in the article: “Martha was undaunted; she worked and saved, and eventually wrote to ask for her children back. The orphanage did not respond. In those days, a child’s moral and spiritual welfare were tantamount, and a single mother was seen as not fit to parent. Nevertheless, she found her way to her daughter, and at least one of her middle sons, if not both. Martha lived the rest of her life with her married daughter and her grandchildren. She died between 1900 and 1910, [but] she never saw nor heard of what had happened to Will.”
With these new pieces of information, Julia was able to trace the line back through time and generations. She even learned a little more about her unexpected DNA results! I am sure it was very satisfying to finally piece together the story of the old train ticket and William’s family story. Even the smallest clues like the old train ticket can lead to long-forgotten stories that add to our family history tapestry. Genealogy is all about persistence, and much like a detective, the smallest piece of evidence can make all the difference!
More on Genealogy for Adoptees
If you’ve been a Premium member for a while, you’ll recall Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It was one of our first Genealogy Gems Book Club selections—and based on feedback from you, it’s been one of our most popular choices. If you haven’t listened to Premium episode 121 which includes our interview with Christina, I encourage you to go back and listen. In that conversation, you’ll learn about the history of the orphan train riders in the U.S. and Canada and how the author researched it.
Learn more about the Orphan Train and it’s riders in this post: “Road Trip Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum.”
See what else we’ve read by clicking: Genealogy Gems Book Club
We’ve heard from many of you that the best-selling novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, featured in our Genealogy Gems Book Club, has piqued your interest in that sad chapter in U.S. and Canadian history. So I thought I’d share this comment from Jenna Mills on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page:
“I’ve become very interested in orphan trains since I heard the interview with the author on your podcast. Fascinating and sad. I’ve since found that that over 250,000 kids are estimated to have been put on a train. 250,000!!!
The National Orphan Train Complex [a museum] is in Concordia, Kansas, so of course a visit there will be forthcoming. I’m halfway through the book and love it. What has really piqued my curiosity is that my great-grandmother adopted a boy while living in Amherst, Nebraska. The railroad doesn’t go through there anymore but did in that time period. I may be taking a trip down a rabbit hole, but this is so fascinating.”
Thanks, Jenna! We’re also aware of an orphan train museum in Louisiana and this lovely summary from an Iowa historical society about riders who landed in their little town. Recently we pinned an image of an old orphan train rider doll on Pinterest.
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We invite you to follow the FREE no-commitment, no-fuss Genealogy Gems Book Club. Every quarter we feature our favorite family-history-friendly fiction and nonfiction titles AND exclusive interviews with their authors!
Guess what? The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has also been covering Orphan Train as a book club selection!
Their format’s a little different than ours: they have weekly blog posts on the book and members are invited to get together over coffee and chat about it. The blog posts are part plot summary, part personal response, and even part genealogy and history instruction! Check out these posts:
What do you think of Orphan Train? Post your response on our Facebook page or email us with your comments. We’d love to hear them!
Click here to go to our Genealogy Gems Book Club page, with more about Orphan Train and other great titles we have featured on the show.
The Genealogy Gems Book Club debuted to excellent response from you, our readers and listeners and social media followers! A LOT of you are passionate about books and family history!
Our last title was a memoir by a woman raised in England who told a story about her South African roots. So what’s the new book? Well, we’re going to cross the sea–and genres–to a novel by U.S. author Christina Baker Kline.
Orphan Train spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list. When you read it you’ll see why. Here’s the storyline:
Vivian is an Irish immigrant child who loses her family in New York City and is forced to ride the ‘orphan train.’ Orphan trains were a common solution in the late 1800s and early 1900s for care of abandoned or orphaned children in New York City and other places. The children were loaded onto trains and paraded in front of locals at various stops across the countryside, where they might be claimed by just about anyone.
After following Vivian’s life through her childhood and young adulthood, we fast-forward. Vivian is 91, and a teenage girl named Molly comes to help her clean out her attic. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who is in the modern foster care system. Gradually they realize they have a lot in common, and you’ll love the ways they each respond to that.
Why did I choose this book for family history lovers to read? To me, the book is about the importance of family identity. Each of us has a family storyline that existed before we were born and brought us into being. Vivian’s and Molly’s experiences remind me how important it is to know and value our family backgrounds. Of course I loved learning more about orphan train riders, too. That chapter of history is now a vivid reality to me.
Click here to order your copy of Orphan Train
When you initiate your purchase here, you are helping support the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast and the Book Club, whether you choose an e-book, or new or used print book on Amazon. Thank you! Then stay tuned–we’ll chat a little more about the book in the February podcast and the author herself will join us in March for an exclusive interview.
Click here to learn more about the Genealogy Gems Book Club and to see books we’ve featured in the past.
Most of us probably have adoptees somewhere on our family trees. Do you know how to research them? It’s not the same as the adoption research people do nowadays to find their birth parents.
Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter [reflected in the mirror]. Image from The Gordon Parks Archives in the Library of Congress.
Formal, legal adoption wasn’t common in the U.S. until the late 1800s. (State adoption laws didn’t even exist until after Massachusetts passed the first one in 1851.) Before that, if mom and dad couldn’t take care of a child, a relative, neighbor or friend took that child in, or the child was sent to a county orphanage or poor home. In even earlier days, orphaned or poverty-stricken children were also sold by their towns into indentures.
The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon has a great timeline of adoption history in the U.S. Check it out to see what was going on when your family member was adopted.
To learn more about adoption and genealogy research, check out these links:
FamilySearch Wiki U.S. Adoption Research
All About Adoption Research by Maureen Taylor
RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees: Adoption