For many years I have been trying to build a physical site but this online site is the best I can do and I appreciate your help in building and expanding the site. My goal is to get 10,000 visitors and establish an expanded beautiful online Orphan Train Museum where researchers, genealogists and historians can access a treasure trove of knowledge relating to the Orphan Train Era (1853-1929). This era saw the largest migration of children (273,000) from New York City in an effort to find homes for the homeless. The trains also left Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. However, we do not have those records available. Some scholars estimate 400,000 to 600,000 children rode the Orphan Trains across America.

This museum will include:

· Access to articles, books and photos relating to the Orphan Train Era

· Read E-books and articles as they are added

· View photos and videos as they are added

· Ask the Curator Questions about the Orphan Train Era (1853-1929) and be directed to additional resources

· Ability to do research on Orphan Train Riders and locate ancestors who were orphan train riders through the purchase of the Orphan Train Reference Guide or direction to online resources

· Ability to view THE GREAT HUNGER (1845-1852) AND ITS LEGACY IN AMERICA (1853-1929)

· Tom Riley is an Adjunct Professor of History at Westchester Community College and invites students to sign up for various courses. Tom has links to the National Orphan Train Complex (Kansas)

· Information on the great child savers of the 19th Century, a Temperance Organization called The American Female Guardian Society

Online Lecture/video on The Orphan Train Era

Tom’s lecture on The Orphan Train Era at The Genealogical Society of Bergen County, NJ in 2020. More information can be found here:

Tom Riley Featured on Irish America Radio

Tom was recently featured on Irish America Radio Hour! Please see attached to listen to the interview. 

“Gotcha” and “Andrew Horace Burke” Presentations

See below for Tom’s presentations “Gotcha” and “Andrew Horace Burke.”


Please see the below link to read Tom’s engaging and informative summary of The Orphan Train Era for the Genealogical Society of Rockland County:

Happy Valley Photo Gallery Starting in the 1920’s

The Great Hunger

Happy Valley

Orphan Train Era

Orphan Trains Images

Opposition to the Orphan Trains

Cleveland Morning Leader

April 2, 1857 (page 2, col. 3)

Five Points Mission, New York, Arrest of Rev. W.C. Van Meter

We publish, by request, the following letter, for which as a matter of justice to the writer, we solicit a perusal.  We believe him to be a good man, and engaged in a good work.  The kind of  contemptible persecution practiced against him, deserves public condemnation:

Mr. Editor;

Since notice of my arrest in Illinois, on the charge of taking paupers from New York into that state has been so extensively circulated, and the statements often so unjust, will you have the kindness to publish this communication?

For a few years past, I have been called to labor among the most wretched and degraded people on earth.  The saddest procession we ever witnessed, composed of the children of poverty, vice, crime and degradation, passes daily before us.

These neglected, suffering, crushed little ones appeal to us as no others can.  Their cry, the wail of perishing infancy and neglected childhood–has been heard and hearts, and arms, and homes, have been opened, and daily, the invitation comes to us send us one, and we will take it and bring it up in the fear of the Lord.  It shall be tenderly, cared for and share with us what God gives us.  Those to whom the children are given, are well recommended, and assume all the responsibility in reference to their future.  The Mission exercises a constant watch care over them, and should the party prove unfaithful, would at once remove the child.

Near twenty years ago, when starting West, in behalf of this Mission, I was requested by C.L. Brace, Esq., Secretary of the Children’s Aid Society, to take some of their children [Note-the society sends more children to homes, than any other similar society in the world.  I often take children from there when I go West.]  This I cheerfully did; but had no more responsibility in the matter than would any stranger of whom the same favor might have been asked.  I was merely morally and honorably bound to be faithful.  I took them and placed each in a good Christian home.  I do not know of one of that number that is not doing well.

With one of them (a boy about 17 years old) there has been some trouble; but a letter recently received, informs me that he is doing well.  He had been in an excellent home more than one year, when through the influence of mischief-makers, he became dissatisfied and left.  He spent several weeks working, hunting, loafing–staying a few days in one place and then changing to another.  When he was told that if he continued in that way he would be arrested for vagrancy, he made arrangement sto live with a farmer, with whom he still dwells.

During the severe weather of the past winter, I went West to place in homes another lot of children, and to visit those I had previously taken there.  Upon my arrival in Washington, Tazewell Co., Il. I met at the depot, the proprietor of one of the hotels, who is also Overseer of the Poor.  He has one that I had taken West of whom he speaks in the highest terms.  He inquired after children in taht region.  He told me that he feared that the boy first alluded to would some day come on the county, as he was unwilling to work and would not remain long in place.  I said, “If I can find him, I will remove him.”  He told me he was with a farmer several miles off in the country.  As he was Overseer of the Poor, I told him that should anyone I had brought become a tax to the county, or to any one not under obligation to take care of it, to inform me of it, and I would at once remove it and pay the bill.

I found the children in that region doing well, except one boy, who in consequence of death in the family, had been three days with another family.  Upon consultation with some of the citizens, I regarded it as an unsuitable place, and therefore felt it my duty to remove him.  The man having learned my intention, had so prepared the boy’s mind, that he said he would rather remain than go and risk getting a better place.

I had thus given offense and two days after, when passing through with some of the children, I was, through his influence, arrested for bringing paupers into Illinois.  The officer was commanded to bring my body at once before the Judge.  He obeyed only when my body was taken before the Judge (Justice of the Peace).  The Judge was not there.  I must wait until next day, and be tried at eight o’clock, A.M.  I went, but for no particular reason, it was delayed until near eleven o’clock.

[Note: I learned the cause of the delay after the trial was over; a messenger had been privately sent in great haste, to the other county, to find the boy and bring him back.  He was brought, dressed in such a manner as to make him look as badly as possible.]

The gentleman who first took the boy testified that he had been willing to keep him–that he studied geography, read books and papers like other boys and that he considered him mentally and physically competent to earn his living and that he was still willing to keep him.

The Overseer of the Poor testified that he had not paid a cent for him or any other one I had brought to the State.  He said a bill of $5 had been presented to him since I was arrested, but he refused to pay it.

Tom’s Air Force Career

Tom Riley enlisted in the Air Force at 17 and was sent to Photo School at Lowry AFB in Colorado. He was then sent to Edwards AFB in California where he worked on the X-15, rockets, and nuclear weapons. He had Top Secret Clearance and was among the first 5000 soldiers sent to support the war in Vietnam. He has sent thousands of books to soldiers veterans hospitals and in Afghanistan. 


31 years ago I climbed up a hayloft and pulled down 26 boxes of what proved to be a treasure trove of Americana dating from 1832 to 1929 that told the story of The Orphan Train Riders. I thank you for entering this site and promise to make it an educational experience. Over 273,000 children departed from Grand Central Station in New York City by rail in an effort to find homes for the homeless. This went on for more than 75 years. The trains also left from Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia and some scholars estimate up to 400,000-600,000 children rode the trains between 1853-1929.

I thank you for accessing the site and hope you enjoy it. The Orphan Train story has often been called the greatest American story never told. The Orphan Train Era saw the largest migration of children in American History. So many children were taken in by farmers and families in Iowa, it is said that one in four Iowans can trace their ancestry to an orphan train rider. It is estimated that 2 million Americans have descended from orphan train riders.

The Orphan Trains and The American Female Guardian Society

New York City in the 19th Century could be a brutal place for a child. A magnet to immigrants and the poor in search of jobs, the city was also a haven for gamblers, thieves and murderers. When adults fell victim to alcoholism, prostitution or drug addiction, their children were the ones who suffered the most.

Temperance organizations such as The American Female Guardian Society stepped in, establishing orphanages and homes for unwed mothers and battered women: “homes for the friendless.” Some of the children in the homes were orphans, but some were “surrendered” by parents who were unable to take care of them. Nearly 273,000 of these children were fostered out to families across the United States via the “orphan trains.”

Tom Riley has written 4 books on the Orphan Train Era (1853-1929). Order at:

The Orphan Trains

Tom’s article “The Orphan Trains” has been published in Irish America! Please see the link below this post to read this article: