New families and new opportunities for orphans who rode the rails from 1854 to the mid-1920s will be explored in a presentation on November 5 hosted by the Richmond Region Historical and Genealogical Society.
RAHGS will host The Orphan Train Era presentation at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend the event at the Richmond Community Center, located at 36164 Festival Drive in Richmond. A $ 5 donation to attend is suggested, and the money earned through the events benefits the company, its educational programs and its restoration projects, said RAHGS Vice President Emeritus Mary Ellen Shepherd-Logan .
“The orphan train was an attempt to protect homeless, poor and orphaned children in an era before welfare or foster care,” Shepherd-Logan said.
The Orphan Train Era will be presented by the founders of Program Source International, Al and Dave Eicher. Program Source International is a Bloomfield Hills-based company providing video production, editing and marketing services. A service of Program Source International is Michigan History Lectures, which provides qualified speakers for a variety of presentations on Michigan and United States history.
Al Eicher said the presentation of the orphan train is one of the organization’s most popular.
“This is the first time that Al and Dave Eicher have presented a program for RAHGS,” said Shepherd-Logan. “We had them scheduled just before the COVID pandemic and had to cancel. We are very happy to welcome them in November and share the story of the Orphan Train, which is part of our country’s history that few people know.
Shepherd-Logan said that while there were costs for RAHGS to host the event, the company voted unanimously to bring the program to the community.
“Because we are a historical and genealogical society, programs that involve the history of families and events that took place in Michigan are of particular interest,” she said. “This particular program tells the story of more than 200,000 orphaned children who have been transported by train from New York City and placed in homes across the United States. Michigan was one of the states in which these children were placed in foster homes.
The hour-long presentation will include the lecture, billboards with historical photos, video segments and more. Al Eicher said his organization became interested in producing presentations on orphan trains after working with the Oxford Historical Society on that city’s history. Major sources of information include the New York Children’s Aid Society and the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America.
“It’s a very moving story for many, and quite moving. There were 12,500 children dropped off in Michigan alone, who got off the train to live in someone’s house, ”Al Eicher said, adding that not all were officially adopted but had at least found homes to take care of.
Al Eicher said many of the children who traveled on orphan trains came not only from the United States but also from Europe. Orphans were particularly present after the civil war.
He also said that not all of the orphans on the train lost both parents, as some were abandoned by a single parent due to poverty after the death of the main household provider. It was believed that by moving children from cities to more rural areas, their chances of adoption would improve, although many children were still unable to find a home. Orphan aid societies were particularly interested in bringing children into Christian homes.
“And whether it’s Boston, New York, or New Jersey, someone decided that this shipment might alleviate the big city problem at the time. We tell the story of what it was like to be an orphan coming from Europe to New York and to be on the train and come to Michigan, ”said Al Eicher.
Nicole Tuttle is a freelance journalist for MediaNews Group.