In the introduction to Train to Somewhere
, Eve Bunting tells the reader that while the names of the towns and the route the train takes are fictional, the Orphan Train was indeed real. From the 1850s to the 1920s, thousands of homeless children were sent from New York City by train to families in the Midwest in the hope they would be adopted. Many of the experiences and recollections of these children have been documented and can be found on the Internet. Have your fourth-grade class do a research project on Orphan Trains. Things to discover are:
What are the names of real Orphan Train children?
Why were children placed on Orphan Trains?
When did they ride the train?
What were the real routes Orphan Trains took?
What cities did they pass through?
Did children get adopted by loving families, or were they just a source of cheap labor?
Were they happy with their new families? Why or why not?
Are there any Orphan Train children still alive today?
How have foster child programs changed?
The most extensive source for material can be found on the Web site of the Orphan Train Society: www.orphantrainriders.com
. After reading the introduction, scroll down and click on the the subject menu. Links that will be particularly useful are:
Orphan Train Movement
Individual Rider Stories
Documents: Announcements, Arrivals, Reports, Legal
Charles Loring Brace
How Did It Feel?
Frequently Asked Questions
If your students do not have access to the Internet, they can write to the Orphan Train Heritage Society. The address is:
Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc.
614 East Emma Drive, #115
Springdale, AR 72764
Once they have gathered their information, children can write traditional reports or create a newspaper of the times featuring human-interest stories about the individual children and the families who adopted them. Or they can host a mock television interview show with some children acting the roles of specific Orphan Train riders, and others being contemporary interviewers.