Orphan Train Rider

Orphan Train Rider
Oliver Nordmark - Age 15 - Esbon KS

Monday, September 19, 2011


How shameful to log onto my BLOG and see that my last entry was May 7th! Unfortunately, life can sometimes get in the way of the things we really want to be doing and that is the case for me I am afraid. But, with the pieces of my life falling - finally - somewhat into place, I am again focusing on the thing that I love to do most.....spread the word of the Orphan Train Movement to just about anyone who will listen!

I completed the 2010-2011 school year with a wonderful SKYPE AN AUTHOR presentation to the students of John B. Dey Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Virginia and am working to add more SKYPE visits to my school calendar for the new school year. In fact, I just received an email from a teacher on Long Island who will be using my books in her classroom this Fall and is interested in a SKYPE visit once they have finished reading. SKYPE is an amazing way for schools to 1. bring an author into the classroom and 2. save lots of money, which schools have very little of anyway. If you are a Teacher, a Media Specialist, or have children in 3rd-6th grade, spread the word about this great resource and help me bring the history of our OT Riders back into our school curriculum!

School visits as well as presentations through the DE HUMANITIES FORUM are also on my agenda and on October 6th I will be signing books at the SENIOR/BABY BOOMER EXPO at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Towson MD from 3-5 pm. In Novemeber I will be visiting and speaking with the residents of Normandy Estates Retirement Community in Blue Bell, PA. This is another great venue since seniors are almost always interested in history - especially a piece of history they never knew existed.

And my final update for now..... The long awaited opening of the DiMenna Children's History Museum in New York City is nearly here - NOVEMBER 11th! I will keep you posted :)

So, I hope I havent lost too many of you to my long absence.....please stay tuned for what I hope will finally be regular postings.

---- Donna Nordmark Aviles

Saturday, May 7, 2011

ADOPTED...INDENTURED...What's the Difference?

Webster's dictionary defines INDENTURE as "A contract binding one person to work for another." The definition of ADOPTION is "To take into one's family through legal means and raise as one's own child."

When we talk about the Orphan Train Movement of 1854-1929, these two concepts can sometimes become intertwined or even misused. The NY Foundling Home primarily used the Indenture Form when placing their infants and young children with new families throughout the country. While not intending for the Indenture Form to "bind the baby to work for the family", it was indeed a legal document thus giving the Foundling Home the ability to remove a child from their new home should the placement be deemed unsuitable.

This "NOTICE OF ARRIVAL" as it was called, required the receiving husband and wife to sign a "RECEIPT OF CHILD" agreeing to raise them in the Catholic faith, send them to school, and give them all the advantages that would be given a biological child. They were also required to report back to the Sisters of Charity, when requested, with an update of the child's health and well being along with any change of address. They were not, however, legally adopting the child. Receiving parents were given a three year window to decide upon legal adoption however oftentimes this was not enforced.

When we go back and read the definitions again, it is easy to see how these two concepts - indenture and adoption - can be confused when referred to during this time period. The term "indenture" carried with it the negative connotations of slavery which came to an end with the 13th Amendment on Dec. 6, 1965. With the NY Foundling Home opening its doors on October 11, 1869 and sending their first Baby Train to the Midwest in 1876, this negativity was still fresh in people's minds and therefore was not a term that was desirable when speaking of their newly arrived baby. Consequently, the word adoption was sometimes used loosely to describe the new family member's arrival when in fact there was no such legal agreement in terms of "adoption" as we know it today. Today, with adoption, a child is legally a parent's natural child. The primary differences with Indenture is that the child was not able to inherit - a very important right as a family member - and the Foundling Home had the ability to remove the child if it so chose.

The Children's Aid Society, under the direction of Rev. Charles Loring Brace, used neither the Indenture nor Adoption process. Brace believed in both sides - the child and the family -having the option of ending the arrangement. This, he envisioned, would occur under the supervision of the CAS during its yearly visit. Receiving parents were, however, given a card outlining the expectations of caring for a child received from the train, and newspaper announcements spoke clearly of the expectations of caring for a child as a member of one's family....food, clothing, schooling, Sunday school, etc.... but there was no legal Indenture or Adoption form. This sometimes led to the unforeseen circumstance of a child being moved around at will by the receiving family and even the older child taking off on his/her own.

A family receiving a child through the CAS of course had the option of legally adopting the child, once the formal adoption laws were put in place in their state. Kansas, by way of example, did not enact its first adoption laws until 1964 - ten years after the start of the Orphan Train Movement.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Many thanks to my blog followers for hanging in with me through a "silent time" of no posts. I have been incredibly busy in both my private and public life and things do not seem to be calming down any time soon!!!

In January I had two days of visits to the Avon Grove Charter School in Avondale, PA where students did a fabulous job illustrating the chapters of my books, writing summaries and poems, and even composing songs! A big THANK YOU to teacher Sandy Speakman who planned the two days of events, juggling everything around numerous snow days and delays! I've posted some pictures for you to see their work.


Work is underway and on track for the Fall 2011 opening of the DiMenna Children's History Museum in NYC which will be a museum FOR CHILDREN all about the history OF CHILDREN. An entire pavilion will focus on the ORPHAN TRAIN children who traveled from NYC to the Midwest in search of homes.

From the Associated Press....... NEW YORK- The New York Historical Society is closing its galleries for nine months to complete the lst phase of a $65 million renovation of its 1904 building.
The research library and museum near Central Park focuses on material covering four centuries of American and NY history. The museum will close on Tuesday Feb. 1 and reopen on November 11th. The renovation will create a new 3,400 Sq ft. great hall, a children's history museum and a restaurant.
The building's library and reading room will remain open until June 3. It will then close for an interior upgrade that includes cleaning its stained glass window for improved lighting. The library will reopen on Sept. 9th.