Orphans, Adoptions and Indentures, part 1

I have been working on extracting Rochester, NY area adoption records from the 19th century since last August. In the process, I have learned a lot about adoptions in New York State and how orphans were treated. Plus, I have found that there were more organizations out placing orphans in the Rochester area than thought.

Orphans are defined as children that have lost both parents. I found very few children that don’t have any living parents. Instead, more common was that one parent has died or left the home and the remaining parent was unable to care for the child.

New York State didn’t pass a law dealing with adoptions until 1873. Before then adoptions were often more casual. If a parent could not longer take care of a child they would give the child to a relative or neighbor. If no provisions were made for a child, the child became the responsibility of the Overseer of the Poor for the Town that they lived in. His responsibility was to make sure that the child was not a public charge so it was important to place a child with a family even if temporarily.

As the number of orphaned children increased, it became more difficult to place all the children. At a meeting of women in Rochester on 28 February 1837 (the same Rochester became a City) they formed “The Rochester Female Association for the Relief of Orphan and Destitute Children.” They decided to incorporate and settled on calling the organization the “Rochester Orphan Asylum.” When the Asylum opened on 2 April 1837, it housed nine children in a small two-story cottage with a garden, on South Sophia Street. The Asylum moved to a new building in Hubbell Park on 9 April 1844. I have had records of the Asylum for 1837 – 1839 online for about 8 years. The number of children in the Asylum grew rapidly and by 1850 the census shows about 75 children in residence. But those numbers only tell part of the story. The records of the Asylum were given to the University of Rochester and they are in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of the Rush Rhees Library (see a description of the collection). The early Admission Records show many children being left at the Asylum and being picked up at a later time by a parent. Those Admission Records also indicate that whoever left the child at the Asylum was expected to pay board. After a time when no board had been paid the Asylum could place out the child. Also some parents when leaving their children would sign them over to the Asylum. They too could be placed out. There are some Admission Records stating that the Overseer of the Poor had brought a child to the Asylum but they are rare.

The Asylum would place out children as either an adopted child or as a servant (or later as an apprentice). Some children were placed out on trial and returned later and then placed out again. After a while, the Asylum and the new parent(s) (or Master) would enter into an Indenture of the child. The Indenture said that the child was expected to be honest, obedient and behave. In turn, the parent had to give the child room, board and clothing. The child was also supposed to be given an education and also some training if indentured as a servant. When the child was of age, which was normally 18 for girls and 21 for boys, they were to receive a Bible and sometimes a new set of clothing. There are a few records of children being returned to the Asylum for being mistreated. I have indexed the indentures from a record book for the years 1837 to 1906 and created a new web page with that index.  A restriction from the University of Rochester (the current holder of the records) wouldn’t allow me to post the records but I will sent via email the record from the indenture book. One thing that amazed me was children that were adopted out of state even at an early date. For example, two children were adopted (as servants) by a man from Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1840. It makes me wonder how and why he got the children from Rochester and not someplace closer to his home.

I did post the entire records of burials from the Asylum from 1838 to 1905. Those records show that only a very small percentage of children died at the Asylum. The Asylum surely took good care of the children in their care.

The Asylum moved to their present site on Monroe Avenue in the early 1900s and they changed the name of the organization to Hillside Home for Children in 1921 and Hillside Children’s Center in 1940. I know that someone will ask about later records. Yes, there are registers of children admitted up to Feb. 1945 in the collection at the University of Rochester. And you can see those records by appointment with the Rare Books Department of the Rush Rhees Library at U. of R.

The Catholics had three small orphanages. St. Joseph’s German Orphan Asylum, near St. Joseph’s Church, was formed in 1863; St. Mary’s Boys’ Orphan Asylum was formed in 1864 and had a home at or near St. Mary’s Hospital; and, St. Patrick’s Orphan Girls Asylum was organized about 1842. All three merged in 1942 to form St. Joseph’s Villa, which is located on Dewey Avenue in the Town of Greece. The records of St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s Asylum are at St. Joseph’s Villa, 3300 Dewey Ave., Rochester, NY 14616. The records for St. Joseph’s Asylum ended up at Catholic Family Center, 87 N. Clinton Ave., Rochester, NY 14604. I haven’t heard of anyone getting any data from either organization. If I am wrong please tell me by adding a comment. Another organization; Sisters of Mercy, Industrial School (AKA Rochester Benevolent and Scientific and Industrial School of the Sister of Mercy) was in existence by 1897 to at least 1907 and was primarily a school. They did do a very few adoptions.

For Jewish orphans there were two orphanages. The Jewish Orphan Asylum of Western NY was organized in 1877 and located on North St. Paul Street. It closed in 1928. It is not known what happen to the records of this organization. The second Jewish orphanage was the Jewish Children’s Home. It opened its doors in 1914 for Orthodox Jewish children. It closed in 1947. The admission records are at the Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Rush-Rhees Library at the University of Rochester. Supposedly for the entire existence of the organization there were only 341 admissions.

Continued in next post.