Orphan Train

Imagine you are living in the busy streets of New York City or Boston in the 1850's. Your family is poor and you live in a one room apartment the size of a small hotel room. You, and your siblings that are old enough, shine shoes or clean homes and businesses to help put food on the table. No matter how hard you try, you and your many brothers and sisters are always hungry, cold, and in need. Your mother does the best she can, but since your father died a year ago she has trouble finding a job that will feed all of you. Your youngest sister is extremely ill, but your family cannot afford the doctors or medicine to help her. You come home from working all day and find a strange man in your family's apartment. Your mother tells you how much she loves you and your brothers and sisters, but you are going with this man on the Orphan Train to live with a new family out west. She asks you to be strong and to look after your siblings and says goodbye with tears in her eyes.

This scenario may sound far-fetched, but it was all to real for thousands of American children during the late 1800's and early 1900's.

MUSIC VIDEO - The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train
Orphan Trains.mov

Your task!

Your task is to tell your story as an orphan, starting with how/why you became an orphan (you don't have to stick with the reason given above), your experiences on the orphan train, and your life after the orphan train.


Work with your group members and individually to fill out this form.

Common Core State Standards

Speaking and Listening:

  • I can engage in different types of collaborative discussion on 7th grade topics, texts, and issues.
  • I can be prepared for collaborative discussion by reading or researching the required material in advance and use my preparation to refer to evidence and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • I can clarify claims and findings in a presentation by including multimedia components and visual displays.


  • I can demonstrate command of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling at a 7th grade level.
  • I can choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, without wordiness or redundancy.
  • I can acquire and use vocabulary appropriate for seventh grade reading and content.

Websites to use for research

National Oprhan Train Complex
This Museum and Research Center is dedicated to the preservation of the stories and artifacts of those who were part of the Orphan Train Movement from 1854-1929.

The Children's Aid Society: The Orphan Trains
Information about the Orphan Trains from the society that ran them.

New York City Orphanages
Contains information about orphanges in New York City.

Orphan Trains of Kansas
Information about trains that came to Kansas. Stories of orphans, placement officers, and historical information and artifacts.

Orphan Trains of Nebraska

Information and artifacts about the trains traveling to Nebraska

Orphan Train Riders of Minnesota
Information about trains to Minnesota.

George Spence

Newspaper article about an orpan who was mistreated by the man who took him into his home.

Wisconsin Magazine of History

Information about the Orphan Trains in general and about an orphan that came to Wisconsin.

The Orphan Trains of Michigan

Video clip

Reaction to Orphans

Video clip (historical fiction)

Tenement Life

Tenement Life

Tenement Life 1860-1910

A video with just pictures of tenement life.

Immigration in the 1800's and 1900's

A prezi about immigration and life for immigrants in Boston and New York.

Orphan Train Riders' Stories

Story of an Orphan Train rider

The American Experience: Orphan Trains

This is the transcript of the PBS documentary about Orphan Train Riders - provides LOTS of firsthand accounts of orphans' experiences

Orphan Train Rider Finds it in Her Heart to Forgive

Brief newspaper article about an elderly woman who rode the orphan train as a child.

Author Interview

Click play to listen to an interview with the author of our new read aloud book.

Orphan Trains

Short paragraphs and links with cool pictures to help you gain an understanding of the Orphan Train and its riders.

The Kathleen Dunn Show

Click play to listen to the radio show about the Orphan Trains.


Use the following information and rubric to be sure you have met all the requirements of the project:

  • You used a digital presentation tool like PowerPoint, Prezi, Movie Maker, Smore, etc.
  • Story should be told from the point of view of an orphan
  • Presentation must contain a minimum of 10 slides/frames and all information from your research questions
  • Each slide/frame must contain a relevant/accurate picture (if you are talking about life in New York the picture should relate to New York at that time, not New York in 2013)
  • Each slide/frame should contain bulleted information not paragraphs (you should be able to tell the story without reading from the slides/frames), COMPLETE SENTENCES ARE REQUIRED
  • Story should follow a logical order
  • Story should include at least 3 "Orphan Train" specific vocabulary words that are used correctly


As you know, life in the 1850's was not easy for orphans. How did you feel about the stories you read and the information you found? Were there any stories, documents, or facts caused you to react strongly? Can you relate these events to anything happening in our world today?