Jewish Orphans and Orphanages

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Hebrew National Orphan Home in New York City from 1913-1920.

Orphans are children who were either parentless or homeless because the parents were dead or could not care for their children. While many cities had Jewish orphanages, not all Jewish children were placed in these orphanages. Some went to orphanages run by city, county, or state governments or to private or nonsectarian orphanages. The records of many orphanages have been lost, especially those destroyed during the Holocaust.

To find orphanage records, first determine what orphanages existed in the areas your ancestors lived in at the time they lived there. Local histories and directories often contain this information. Once you locate the orphanage, determine if records survive. If the orphanage is still operating, it would likely have records. If it no longer exists, records may be in local, state, or national archives or libraries.

Some Internet sites have information about orphanages, for example, the Hebrew National Orphan Home. Also look for lists of Jewish orphanages in the U.S. with details about their histories and how to access records, information about orphan trains, a database of orphans and foundlings buried in New York area cemeteries, and lists of children living in Jewish orphanages as enumerated in various United States censuses, including:

When searching for records of non-Jewish orphanages throughout the world, look for genealogical how-to books or genealogical web sites for the area. For example, for information about orphans and orphanages in Australia, see:

  • Vine Hall, Nick. Tracing Your Family History in Australia: A Guide to Sources. 2nd ed. Albert Park, Victoria: N. Vine Hall, 1994. (FHL book 994 D23v). WorldCat entry.

The Family History Library has records of a few orphans and orphanages for some countries. Check for these records in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under the name of the town or county of the orphanage with the topic "Orphans and Orphanages." Also check in the same way under school records because many orphanages established their own schools.