Children without parents in 19th Century

posted in: Family History, Genealogy | 0

Last week, I shared an answer to a guardianship question I received.  This week, I’m answering the second part of that question.  What happened in 19th Century when both parents died?

I can turn to my own family history for this answer.

children were left with no living parents

My great-grandfather lost both of his parents by 1886, when he was around 11 or 12.  He stated that he was all alone after that.  His brother was old enough to go off on his own and two sisters had married.  Two other sisters have been untrackable, but is said to go to the neighboring state.

Grandpa said that he lived with a man named Bud Morrow.  That name meant nothing to us and was not related that we knew of.  All of the family stated they did not believe that there was a familial connection.

The 1890 census was destroyed, so we do not know where Grandpa was then and by 1900 he was a married man with a young family.

So, I began to research Bud Morrow.  I wanted to know if the man even existed and he did.  I found a man with that name and the correct wife, living in the area.  I discovered a very round about connection.  Bud’s wife was the aunt through marriage to the husband of one of Grandpa’s paternal aunts.  But that marriage did not occur until Grandpa was a young man.

I did discover that Bud had several sons around Grandpa’s age.  This lead to a belief that they were probably schoolmates and friends, who worked and played alongside one another.  Bud lived in the two counties in between where Grandpa grew up and settled as a young man, which again made sense.

So, what happened to children without parents in the 19th century?

they depended on the kindness of others to take them in

Today, they would be placed with a family member or foster family, but none of this existed in the 19th Century.

Children were farmed out to whoever would take them in.  This could be grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends or townspeople in the area.

In some areas, they were even placed on orphan trains and sent off to other people

Young men such as Grandpa would have been deeply desired because they could work hard and help out on the farm or in the store or where needed.

Older girls would have been desired to help out with the house and younger children.

Many younger children would have been desired by couples longing for children, especially if they could not have children of their own.

Often, it was difficult for children of what would not be elementary age to be placed.  They were not infants, but not of working age yet.

If they were taken in by couples who were mean or abused them, many young people {especially boys/men} would set out at a young age on their own.

Do you have an ancestor who was left parentless at a young age?