In 1853, the Children’s Aid Society was formed in New York City. Its mission was to improve the lives of the estimated 30,000 homeless children of the city. Some were orphans; others had been given up by parents unwilling or unable to care for them. They were vulnerable to abuse, assault, and exploitation, not to mention starvation and disease. For self-protection, many joined gangs that posed a significant problem for law and order. The founder, Charles Loring Brace, believed that these children could be helped by placing them with morally upright farm families, where there would be good and plentiful food, fresh air, and development of a solid work ethic and skills. Although these children would not be indentured, the practical effect was that these families would receive extra labor around the farm.

The logistics were fairly straightforward: groups of 10-40 children were placed aboard trains, the most efficient form of travel at the time, under the escort of “agents.” Flyers were sent ahead to towns on the planned route and local screening committees were tasked with finding prospective parents and helping with the selection and placement process. Once a child was placed, the guardians signed a contract in which they agreed to treat the child as a member of the family, be educated, and to keep the Society updated at least once a year on the child’s progress. The Orphan Train, as it came to be known, ran from 1853-1929. At least 100,000 (possibly as many as 250,000) children were transported in this manner.

In 1995, The American Experience produced a documentary on the Orphan Trains; the transcripts of interviews with these orphans are heartbreaking to read:

“I would give a hundred worlds like this,” wrote one child from her new comfortable home, “if you could see my mother.”

[The Children’s Society founder, Charles Loring] Brace himself grappled with the dilemma: “When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go.”

According to Society records (mostly from a list compiled by Jane Coble of Jacksonville, Il, in 1992), at least 20 children were placed with Hancock County families between 1891 and 1905.  The Society has begun a project to learn more about these children and what happened to them.  As we complete each child, a separate page will be created to carry their story.

The table below lists each child, their year of arrival, and foster family information.  You can sort the table by clicking on the column title, or you can search in the box at the top of the table.  As separate pages are created, a link will be established to carry you to individual biographies.

If you have information or photographs to share, please contact us.

SurnameFirst NameAgeYear of PlacementFoster Family and location
Bauersfeld Henrietta (Etta)111891, MayRisdon H. Kirby, Dallas City
BauersfeldAnnie Sophia1891Mr. Vaugh
BesardGeorge141891, MayJesse L. Avise, Dallas City
KeadyLillie151891, MayAndew J. Alston, Colusa
JohnsonAnnie81885Dwight Whitcomb, Powellton
HaupertWilliam141892D. M. Johnson, Plymouth
Wood Charlotte161892Sterritt family, Bowen
FriedmanArthur Nathan171892Elvaston
MarionLafayette131892F. D. Lyon, Hamilton
GerhardtWilliam131891G. C. Karr and George Cook Karr
George Possibly not an orphanunkunkG. C. Karr
Van HoveSamuel (also Elizabeth and Harry, upstate Illinois)121892W. O. Kunkel, Ferris
KonneckeKate151897Charles Green and Fannie M. Plantz, LaHarpe
EgersRichard61897Ludwig A. Wilke, Dallas City
CorcoranFlorence151905Coldwell family, Dallas City
MeyersFrank121885Eli & Mary Munsun; J. M. Jones, Carthage
Mary141885O. F. Berry, Esq, Carthage
Del VastoEleanore111885Thomas C. Sharp, Esq., Carthage
LillisJames Willis6Sater Comer, Esq, Elvaston
CosgroveWilliam61873Constant Webb & Sussannah Kelly Hicks