Jewish Orphans

Jewish Orphanages

In what was known as the "heyday of American orphanages" in the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish philanthropists, many of them women, feared that dependent Jewish children would become estranged from their religion by being taken in by non-Jewish institutions. Within these highly regimented and often isolating institutions, children received elementary education, religious instruction, and vocational training. For women, the latter, in keeping with nineteenth-century gender norms, centered on preparing them for marriage and motherhood. Eventually, several orphanages broadened their horizons and developed special programs to benefit female students they saw as intellectually gifted, encouraging them to attend college to become nurses or teachers. By 1940, most Jewish orphanages were absorbed into larger Jewish children's associations in many cities. From Orphanages in the United States by Reena Sigman Friedman.

U.S. Adoption and Orphanage Records article by Center for Jewish History.

Thanks to Marlene Trestman for her compiled list of 49 Jewish orphanages in America.
Purchase Marlene Trestman's new book Most Fortunate Unfortunates.

Lists of children 1855-1946 and widows 1855-1885 who resided at the Jewish Orphans' Home of New Orleans are now searchable in the USA Database. Compiled by Marlene Trestman with research for her book, this collection originates from handwritten information in the Home's original Registry Books.

Although no longer actively maintained, a comprehensive database about American Jewish orphanages and orphan benevolent societies was compiled in 2004 by alumni of the Hebrew National Orphans Home, Yonkers, NY. See retired website with information about Jewish orphanages identifying where records are held for some.

Orphan Trains

Between 1854 and 1929, as many as 250,000 children from New York and other Eastern cities were sent by train to towns in midwestern and western states, as well as Canada and Mexico. Families interested in the orphans showed up to look them over when they were placed on display in local train stations, and placements were frequently made with little or no investigation or oversight. Organized by the New York Children’s Aid Society, the orphan trains were based on the theory that the innocent children of poor Catholic and Jewish immigrants could be rescued and Americanized if they were permanently removed from depraved urban surroundings and placed with upstanding Anglo-Protestant farming families. From The Adoption History Project.

Orphan Train Myths and Legal Reality 1854-1929 by Rebecca S. Trammell 

National Orphan Train Complex - Concordia, Kansas

Records are held at the New York Children's Aid Society, NY Foundling Hospital, and New York Historical Society. See FamilySearch Wiki for more detail.

Last updated 1/17/2024.