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Orphan Trains: Placing Out Children in Minnesota: Newspapers

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Newsboy distributing January 1937 Minneapolis Journal.The Minnesota Historical Society holds the world's largest collection of Minnesota newspapers, with dates ranging from 1849 to the present day.

Past issues of most newspaper titles are available on microfilm in the MNHS library, but there is also digital access to select newspapers

Use the links to the left to search for newspapers available at MNHS and to search within digitized newspaper collections.   

 

Background Information

Newspapers offer an abundance of information about orphan trains. Typically, an announcement that a train would be coming was printed in a town's newspaper a week or two in advance of arrival, and included details such as time of arrival, where to meet the children, who to contact to apply for a child and how many boys and girls were expected. Following the departure of a train, newspapers often printed lists detailing the children's names and ages and with whom they were placed.

Occasionally, newspapers would also run personal ads for orphan train families seeking to be reunited, such as a mother searching for her children. Sordid tales of families being dishonestly separated were also published, including a series of articles which ran in the Windom Reporter in the autumn of 1882.

Suggested Newspapers & Dates

Trains operating under the auspices of dozens of organizations sent children west to new homes and new communities; announcements and postings about orphan trains can be found in newspapers throughout Minnesota covering the entire 70 year span that the orphan trains operated.  

A suggested search technique would be to start by looking at the newspapers for a particular county's seat for a particular time period and then branching out to neighboring communities.  See staff in the Hubbs Microfilm Room for assistance with determing county seats and newspaper holdings.

Northfield, in Dakota and Rice counties, received at least one train in August of 1870. By 1884, seven Minnesota counties had received the majority of the children sent West via the Children's Aid Society:

  • Cottonwood
  • Freeborn
  • Fillmore
  • Martin
  • Nobles
  • Rock
  • Watonwan

Later trains went to many other Minnesota counties, including (but not limited to):

  • Dodge
  • Faribault
  • Goodhue
  • Hennepin
  • Olmsted
  • Ottertail
  • Ramsey
  • Stearns

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