Holly Ricci-Canham from the Orleans County Genealogical Society is coming to Lewiston to explain how the Orphan Trains worked and how they impacted Western New York. She'll speak as part of a Historical Association of Lewiston gathering to be held Monday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the Barton Hill Hotel & Spa, 100 Center St. The event is free and open to all.
The trains transported children from crowded coastal cities of the U.S. to the country's interior from 1854 to 1929, relocating an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children.
The children would typically arrive in a town where local community leaders had assembled interested townspeople. The children would usually be put up on a stage-like podium for viewing and inspection. The townspeople would inspect the children, perhaps feeling muscles and checking teeth, and after brief interviews, take the chosen ones home. Children, desperate to find a family to adopt them, would often sing or dance to attract interest.
Sadly, many siblings were separated during this process, because the parents were only allowed to take one child. After a trial period, some children became indentured servants to their host families, while most were adopted, formally or informally, as family members.