Finding Balance

The Orphan in My Family Tree

I’d like you to meet Fritz. He is my great great grandfather on my mother’s mother’s mother’s side. His parents are a mystery in my family tree, and I love a good mystery.

Family lore informs us that Fritz, whose real name was Frederick, was born sometime in the early 1870s in New York City. According to family stories, Fritz had parents who grew sick and died in one of the many epidemics that swept through the tenements of Kleindeutschland, on the lower east side of Manhattan, in the late 1870s. He may have stayed with a grandmother for a short time after his parents died, but Fritz eventually ended up in an orphanage in New York City. Family lore also tells us that at the age of seven, Fritz arrived in Bow Valley, Nebraska, reportedly one of many Orphan Train Riders sent to a better life out west by Charles Loring Brace and his Children’s Aide Society. The only additional information that trickled down our branch of Fritz’s family tree is the story that the orphanage he stayed in burned down shortly after he joined his foster family in Nebraska, and that all his records burned with it.

These stories could be clues that will one day lead us to discover Fritz’s parents, or they could be distractions. Either way, they have provided me with hours of fascinating reading and plenty of opportunity to flex my research muscles. I’m going to write and share more about Fritz (and the research I’ve done to dig into the family lore surrounding him) this month during some of my daily writing exercises.

Today, I just want to introduce him to you. I also want to share three great resources I’ve found that are positively vital for investigating general genealogy, New York City records, and Orphan Train Rider information.

Check out these resources by clicking the links below. No matter where your ancestors are from, you are bound to find something interesting connected to them through the first site, The USGenWeb Project. Look someone up and let me know what you find!

The USGenWeb Project

The USGenWeb Project is a national site, run by volunteers, that is an online center for genealogical research, through which you can access state — and even county — information that has been extracted, scanned, transcribed, or otherwise recorded by volunteers. The records are all free, and the type of records available vary by state and county. You will also find contact information and links for outside resources through The USGenWeb Project.

My research on The USGenWeb Project has mostly focused on Nebraska. My absolute favorite records found to date on USGenWeb have been the Nebraska School Census transcriptions, which helped me to narrow down the year that Fritz came to Nebraska and moved in with his foster family. A few other examples of records I’ve found on the Nebraska page include marriage records, cemetery descriptions, town histories, contact information for courthouses and historical societies, and links to platte maps that help bring neighborhoods alive when compared to census records.

NYC Records & Information Services, Genealogy

The New York City Municipal Archives contains records for the five boroughs of New York City. You will find birth, marriage, and death records in this archive, and will find links on the Genealogy page to local genealogy groups that maintain indexes of the records, as well as a link to order copies of vital records.

I have found this archive a valuable tool in obtaining records that contained information that could prove or disprove a family connection, as well as records that provide information with clues to immigration dates, addresses, and other details not available in indexes or census records.

National Orphan Train Complex, Research Resources

The National Orphan Train Complex website is full of valuable information worth exploring. Their Research Resources page contains a collection of mailing addresses and web links that are sure to aid you in your search. While there are other websites that compile this information, many of them contain outdated mailing addresses and broken links. I like this resource because I feel confident it is kept up to date regularly.

I found the resources on this site especially useful when following up on letters my mom wrote to orphanages in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While I haven’t found a record of “our Fritz” yet, it helps to have a reasonable idea where no records for him exist so that I can focus on clues about where he might have been.


9 replies »

  1. You have discovered so much more in the past few years than any of us could find before! Good job!


    • Thanks! I enjoy every second of this research. And look forward to more. It occurred to me as I was mulling over things to write about this month that it would be fun — and hopefully useful — to share some of the resources that are the true goldmines of reliable information. It also occurred to me that the process of relegating items to my other binder full of “too bad it didn’t work out” stuff might be good to share to help others navigating similar mysteries!