Orphan Train Rider

Orphan Train Rider
Oliver Nordmark - Age 15 - Esbon KS

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.