A Research Dive: The Hebrew Orphan Asylum
Blog post by JMM archivist Lorie Rombro. You can read more posts by Lorie here.
A few weeks ago, I received an information request about the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The person wanted to know if we could find information on if her grandmother and any of her siblings that had been placed in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and why. She said that family lore said they had been there, but they had no proof of this. This began another interesting journey through the collections.
The Hebrew Orphan Asylum which was established in 1873 by the Hebrew Benevolent Society, was located on the outskirts of the city (at the time) in Calverton Heights. It would stay at the same location until 1923 when the Hebrew Orphan Society and the Hebrew Children’s Sheltering and Protective Society, which merged in 1921, moved out to what is now Levindale on the recommendation of the newly formed Associated Jewish Charities. With in a few years the orphanage was closed with the children entering the fostering system and the residents of the Hebrew Home for the Aging moving in.
Because the person requesting information had done her research prior to contacting us I knew that sometime between the 1900 and 1910 her grandmother would have been in the orphanage. I began by looking at what we have in our collection, and identified a small book that listed all the girls and boys in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. I was excited when I found her grandmothers name with the date of arrival and discharge next to her name.
I was not expecting what I found next, two large books in good condition that contained the admissions records for the children from 1873-1896 & 1896-1917. Each book had an entry for each child providing information on the father, mother, siblings, reason for being placed, general health and additional information on family and behavior. The amount of information on each child varies but it allows for a picture of the child to begin. What was interesting is like most orphanages of the time the majority of orphans are “half” orphans, with either a mother or father placing them in orphanage for lack of funds or the ability to care for the child. Glued and placed in between the pages of the book where additional documents which added to the record. Including court documents, medical records and most important letters of discharge. It was amazing to see where the children went, often home to a parent, taken in by an older sibling when they were able to care for them, a relative or on to a boarding house to stay at because they had a job.
I was able to locate the record for this women’s grandmother and her great uncle, why they where placed and that two years later their mother came back for both children. The location of the home they where being discharged to and any notes on behavior during their stay. Like many children that had a living parent there where reports of them running away from the orphanage to their parent. One book was able to put to rest a families questions on their history and gave documented proof that the stories where true.