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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa  Orphan Train Riders
 to Iowa

~~ Frequently Asked Questions ~~

Here we will try to address some Frequently Asked Questions regarding the trains and orphans who came to Iowa.

"Did only children come on the Orphan Trains?"

The placing out system began with boys, mostly older ones, in a effort to help farmers who needed help.  It was hoped that by providing homeless boys with a place to work and a good, Christian family they would become productive members of the community.  There were also organizations who also helped young adults and whole families who wished to relocate, find a good job and make a better life for themselves.

"How many children are we talking about?  I thought it was just a few children on a couple of trains, once or twice."

Actually, about 10,000 children were placed out in Iowa.  Children were brought to Iowa as early as 1854 and the last train came in 1929. 

"Why were there so many children who needed homes?"

The large cities in the east such as New York and Boston were becoming very heavily populated.  Outbreaks of influenza, cholera, scarlet and yellow fevers, chicken pox and other illnesses took many lives.  Domestic abuse, alcoholism and abandonment were as prevalent then as now and there were charitable organizations who tried to care for the children in these situations.  Placing them with families in the midwest seemed the best option for many homeless children.

"Were all the children were adopted?"

Similar to foster care today, there was no rule that said you had to adopt a child if you had one placed in your home.  Many times, because of inheritance issues, the child was not formally adopted.  Older children and young adults may have been indentured, where they agreed to work for a specified period of time in return for room, board, education, etc.  Once the indenture was fulfilled, the child was free to go, no strings attached.

"Were children who were not adopted sent to orphanages in Iowa?"

Very rarely did a child that was brought to Iowa to be placed with a family end up in an Iowa orphanage.  If there were any problems or something happened to the family the child had been placed with, someone from the agency who placed the child would come and get the child, re-place him with another family or take them back with them. 

"Were children who were 'placed out' mistreated, made to work and have a very hard life?"

Most of the children were treated the same as any other member of the family.  The orphans who were placed have similar feelings regarding their adopted or foster family as children today do -- some felt this was their home and had no need to find out more about their birth families while others felt they never fit in and needed to find their 'real' family again.  You will always hear horror stories and, for some reason, these are the stories that stick in your mind but as a whole, it was a very good system. 

"If I find that one of my ancestors was an Orphan Train Rider, what do I do?"

That is where this website and Madonna come into the picture.  She has information on about 3,000 orphans and continues to gather more.  We will try to get information online to help you further your research and Madonna is always ready to answer questions.


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