Dorothy Mae Johnson

By guest Joan Sawyer: Dorothy Mae Johnson (born Dorothy Kathryn Brooks in New York City on May 23, 1911) was an orphan train rider. She left New York on a train that stopped in Algona, Iowa in February 1917. At the age of 5 1/2 she was taken in by John and Carrie (Curtis) Johnson, who farmed near Irvington in Kossuth County, Iowa, and later adopted by them in 1923. Dorothy Mae Brooks and her brother, Albert Brooks, and other children given up for adoption were accompanied on the train by Clara B. Comstock, western agent for the New York Children’s Aid Society. Dorothy Mae, Albert, and Charles were given up by their mother (Mary Elizabeth) after their father died. Mary Elizabeth had health problems and could not support her three youngest children. Charles was sent on another orphan train to Chanute, Kansas to be adopted. Albert Brooks was taken in by Mrs. Rawson in Algona, Iowa. Dorothy’s name was changed to Dorothy Mae Johnson. John and Carrie Johnson had a daughter, Clara Mae, born in 1905 and she died in 1907. Dorothy grew up on the farm and attended the nearby country school. When Dorothy was 12, her birth mother came from New York in hopes of taking Dorothy and her brother, Albert, back to New York. Albert went but Dorothy liked her adoptive family and stayed with the Johnsons in Iowa. She attended high school in Algona, Iowa, and then taught in the country schools near the farm where she grew up. In 1933, Dorothy married Irving Urch of Kossuth County, Iowa. They farmed in Iowa and later in Minnesota. They had four children. Dorothy visited her birth mother in New York and also made sure that her four children met their grandmother. One of her sons attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. Irving and Dorothy decided that each of their children would attend that university so they left farming and moved to Greenville, South Carolina. In her later years, Dorothy wrote a book about her life and the quest to find her brother, Charles, who had been adopted in Kansas. By the time she finally found his family, Charles had died and his widow and his children lived in Canada. The name of the book is: “Charles Found at Last.” After the death of her husband in 1993, Dorothy moved into a retirement home in South Carolina where she enjoyed making quilts and doing all kinds of crafts. In 1999, she and her two daughters met with the archivist of the New York Children’s Aid Society and loved searching through the old records. She attended an orphan train reunion, hosted by the Society, in...

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Francis Joseph Hill

By guest Delores Jakubek: My father Francis Xavier was born on or about August 19, 1889. He was left in the basket at the Foundling Hospital in New York City, run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. No record of his parents is available. At the age of 3, he was sent by train to Farley, Iowa. There he was taken in by the Irish Catholic James Hill family, who were good to him. Dad was fostered, not adopted, however he changed his name to Francis Joseph Hill. The Hills were farmers and Dad worked the farm also. He continued being a farmer throughout his life. At that time, being an orphan was a shameful fact, and he was bullied in school for being one. It became so severe that he asked the Hill family to let him stay home at the end of third grade. From then on, Dad was self-taught. He married my mother, Eda Kern, in 1918. At that time the orphan shame continued with him and he asked my mother not to tell anyone, not even us, their 8 children. After he died, we found out but none of us had heard of Orphan Trains. Thus our research began. How sad that we were never able to talk to Dad about his feelings and experiences through all...

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