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...

Read More

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...

Read More

The Last Shoot

The Last Shoot

Paul Kakert, our director of photography, shot our last remaining scene for our documentary, West by Orphan Train, yesterday. He filmed at an old orphanage in Davenport, Iowa. I wanted to share this photo from the shoot. You can see some of the orphanage buildings in it.   Chad Aubrey, of Iowa Public Television, has already begun editing the documentary with director/co-producer Colleen Bradford Krantz, and the various shoots and historic photos are coming together nicely as we tell the story of author Clark Kidder’s grandmother and others. We hope to wrap up the edit in the next month or so. We should have an estimated date for the broadcast soon so check...

Read More

Sophia Hillesheim

Sophia Hillesheim

By guest Renee Wendinger: My mother, Sophia (Kaminsky-New York name,) Greim (foster name,) Hillesheim (married name,) is a 1917 orphan train rider to Minnesota. She is one of the few surviving riders, and her family celebrated her 99th birthday in April. Born in Bronx, New York, Sophia was placed west by orphan train, on what was termed the baby trains or baby specials, through the auspices of the New York Foundling Hospital in New York City. She was only two years old. Her complete story, and the story of a young boy making his way from Europe, to New York, to Iowa aboard an orphan train by way of the New York Children’s Aid Society, can be read in my newly launched book, Last Train Home. I have heard numerous stories of orphan train riders since I was a young girl of 10 attending orphan train gatherings with my mother. I found each rider’s story fascinating, unique and remarkable. Each year at orphan train gatherings, I immersed myself in their stories; my ears absorbing their every word. I’m now president of Orphan Train Riders of New York, an author, and presenter of the Orphan Train...

Read More

Gilbert Eadie’s Story

by Guest Elaine Eadie My grandfather, John Eadie, along with his twin brothers, Hugh and Tom, arrived at Ellis Island, New York as immigrants from Glasgow, Scotland around 1891. My grandfather became a U.S. citizen October 19, 1892. Shortly after my grandfather arrived he found work immediately since he was a mason. He helped build the St. John the Devine Cathedral in New York City. My grandfather, John Eadie, married Adelia Kelly from New York City and six children were born to this union. In 1911 Dad’s mother’s health began to fail and Dad, along with two of his siblings, went with their mother to Connecticut in hopes of getting help for her health. She passed away in July, 1911. John carved his wife’s tombstone, which I have a picture of. The following year Dad’s father’s health was failing. Dad always said his father died of a broken heart after the passing of his wife. He passed away in April 1913. In December 1912, Dad and his youngest brother were taken to the Brace School for Boys in Valhalla, New York, which was fifty or sixty miles north of the city. Dad always said if he could have lived his life over, he would have stayed at the Brace School since he thought the world of Mr. and Mrs. Wendel who Dad called Ma and Pop Wendel. They were the caretakers of this school and Pop Wendel taught school there. His sister made one request – that the boys were never to be split, and the Children’s Aid Society kept her wish. They remained together until Walter passed away in 1937 from Multiple Sclerosis. My father, Gilbert Eadie, and his younger brother, Walter, rode the orphan train from New York City to Northwood, Iowa on July 17, 1913. The Children’s Aid Society already had a home picked for Dad and Walter, and they did not have to stand before the crowd to be picked over like slaves on the platform or stage at the Dwelle Opera House. The night of their arrival they, along with Anna Laura Hill from the Children’s Aid Society, stayed at the hotel in Northwood before departing for Pratt, Kansas where they lived with Mr. and Mrs. William Wright. They had two daughters the same age as Dad and Walter. Mr. Wright was a school teacher and the boys rode in the surrey to school each day. The Wrights’ parents came from Pennsylvania and convinced the Wrights to move back to Pennsylvania, which they did, but they did not want to take the boys with them. Anna Laura Hill came to Pratt, Kansas and brought the boys to Waukon, Iowa January 24, 1914. She took...

Read More

Our New Trailer and Crowdfunding Push

We’re happy to announce that we’ve completed our full trailer, which you can find on our main page. We’d like to be able to say the same thing about the full documentary by the end of 2014. So far, we’ve raised $25,000 out of the $33,000 we need to finish telling the story of these orphan children, who were taken from orphanages to unfamiliar cities and towns so many years ago. In hopes of wrapping up our fundraising, we’re offering rewards through our just-launched crowdfunding campaign. We’re aiming to raise $8,500 over a three-week period ending March 15. Any donation over $35 not only gets you a reward, but is also tax deductible through Storytellers International. Please help us by going to the FundMyDocumentary site and give what you can to help us move ahead. And share the link with friends or family members. You have our...

Read More

Emily’s Story

Emily’s Story

By Clark Kidder During our formative years there are a handful of very special people who inevitably have a tremendous impact on us. For me, two such people were my paternal grandparents, Earl and Emily Kidder. So many children never really get to know their grandparents, but I had the good fortune of having mine reside with us on our 175-acre farm in Milton Township, Rock County, Wisconsin. I wasn’t much more than 5 years old when I decided I wanted to sleep in my grandparents’ apartment. The two apartments were attached and shared two common doors, much like a duplex. I would spend most of the next eighteen years of my life with them, sharing meals, listening to their wonderful stories of yesteryear, and soaking up every bit of love they could spare. Grandma Emily would often shoo me over to my parents’ side of the house, telling me that I needed to spend more time with them. I could never understand why she had been so emphatic about it. My answer would be found many years later. In 1981, at age 18, I followed a suggestion made by my aunt, Mildred (Kidder) Yahnke, that I should begin researching our family tree. I decided to do just that and began interviewing my paternal grandparents and other family members. By then, Grandpa Earl was 88 and Grandma Emily was 89. The stories they told about our ancestors fascinated me, but I was particularly interested in the story of how they met and what their young lives were like. Grandma told me that she was an orphan and was placed in an orphanage in Brooklyn, New York when she was about 8 years old. She told me her parents died of pneumonia and that her brother Richard was also placed in the same orphanage and was later adopted “by a rich family.” She recalled how a minister by the last name of Clarke brought her to the Midwest on a train under the auspices of the Children’s Aid Society of New York City. It was not until several years after my grandparents passed away that I read about an organization called The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, which gathered and disseminated information on Orphan Train riders. It occurred to me that my grandmother, Emily, may have been one of the children who was sent west on what they were now calling Orphan Trains. I later learned that a woman in my hometown of Milton had several volumes of journals and scrapbooks kept by a minister named Herman D. Clarke. She mentioned to my aunt Mildred that Mildred’s mother (my grandmother) Emily’s name was in the journals. My aunt informed...

Read More

Recent Blog Posts

June 28, 2014 |

Dorothy Mae Johnson

By guest Joan Sawyer: Dorothy Mae Johnson (born Dorothy Kathryn Brooks in New York City on May 23, 1911) was […]

June 4, 2014 |

Francis Joseph Hill

By guest Delores Jakubek: My father Francis Xavier was born on or about August 19, 1889. He was left in […]

May 24, 2014 |

The Last Shoot

Paul Kakert, our director of photography, shot our last remaining scene for our documentary, West by Orphan Train, yesterday. He […]

May 6, 2014 |

Sophia Hillesheim

By guest Renee Wendinger: My mother, Sophia (Kaminsky-New York name,) Greim (foster name,) Hillesheim (married name,) is a 1917 orphan […]

March 26, 2014 |

Gilbert Eadie’s Story

by Guest Elaine Eadie My grandfather, John Eadie, along with his twin brothers, Hugh and Tom, arrived at Ellis Island, […]

February 20, 2014 |

Our New Trailer and Crowdfunding Push

We’re happy to announce that we’ve completed our full trailer, which you can find on our main page. We’d like […]

December 22, 2013 |

Emily’s Story

By Clark Kidder During our formative years there are a handful of very special people who inevitably have a tremendous […]

Read More