And it isn’t just the adoptees of my era. The need to know applies to children and grandchildren of the adoptees. It does not matter what kind of life adoption gave you, your parent, or grandparent, the need to know the past doesn’t just disappear.
His father, J. Harold Phillips, came to Iowa in 1912, when he was 6, aboard a train filled with children. The boy lined up onstage with the other youngsters at a theater and was selected by a childless doctor, Norman Phillips, and his wife, Amy. They took him home and adopted him two years later.
Jim Phillips, 71, a retired school counselor and coach, wants to learn the rest of his dad’s story and hopes to track down cousins he has never met. His father was born John Harold Bachlund in New York City to Emil and Ella Bachlund, immigrants from Finland. After Ella died in 1908, Emil — a sailor who was often at sea — gave up John Harold, two other sons and a daughter.
John Harold’s path after that was not unusual in New York and other East Coast cities from the 1850s to 1929. The Children’s Aid Society and New York Foundling Hospital put orphaned or abandoned children on trains headed west. The beginning of the Great Depression and enactment of social service programs and child protective laws ended the practice.
Lukas Weinstein, archive coordinator for the Children’s Aid Society, says that about 200,000 children rode the trains. Some were adopted by loving families; others were treated as servants when there were no child labor laws. Many ended up in the Midwest.
A growing number of their offspring want to know more about the orphan train riders. “I’ve seen a steady increase (in interest) in the past year,” Weinstein says. He gets up to 20 requests a week for information.
Go read the whole thing as it is not just his story but others. If you don’t know much about the Orphan Train Riders you can check out the links in this post to learn more.