beacon for Warren relatives from Western Kentucky. The hope of re-connection was based on my Grandfather's unfortunate experience as a child. When he was around the age of 8 or 9, his Mother gave birth to a baby boy while she was in the last stages of battling Tuberculosis. The baby's fate remains a mystery based on conflicting information. However, my Grandfather and his younger sister, Estelle, were placed in an orphanage in Louisville Kentucky.
You will notice that I just used a variable for his age at the time of entrance into the orphanage. This variable is based on the records received from the orphanage. In 1999, when my Grandfather was roughly 85, the orphanage contacted him and sent him his case file. As you can imagine, this was bittersweet for him, knowing the traumatic circumstances that prompted his placement in an orphanage that happened to be halfway across the state.
The packet of documents included invaluable pieces of information about our family. In this post I want to take a look at the documents that were included. Outside of any actual court proceedings for an adoption, I'm assuming this packet would be typical for Kentucky children placed in orphanages of the time - and even more so for cases such as this, when the child was never adopted, but aged out of the system.
Chronologically, the earliest correspondence is between the public health nurse and the director of the orphanage, asking for them to take the two children. Apparently this was the first contact, and the nurse has explained the family situation in great detail - including the time frame of how long my Great Grandfather had the injuries that had rendered him partially paralyzed and unable to care for his children.
There is also a letter from the Mayor of Mayfield, providing a letter of recommendation for the children - based on the urgent need created when a third child was born within the few days that followed the previous letters.
The County Health Nurse is writing on two types of letterhead:
"Mayfield and Graves County Chapter of the American Red Cross"
"State Board of Health of Kentucky"
Application for Admission into the Christian Church Orphans' Home of Kentucky - This appears to be a form made in-house, not produced by any state or local government. Full of amazing info: Parents' full names, ages, health approval of my Grandfather, and the religious affiliation of the parents.
**Note** On the reverse of the Application are Conditions of Admission, including the cut-off age for children entering the home: 12 years old for girls, 11 years old for boys. Yikes!
Commitment to the Christian Church Widows and Orphans Home of Kentucky - This one is even better - chock full of birth locations for both parents and the child, as well as specific Church the parents attended during their life. Also includes the signatures of my Great Grandparents, including Great Grandmother Florence who died at the age of 25 of tuberculosis and who had just given birth a few days earlier. I've always thought that both of their signatures looked very shaky. I can only imagine the horrible emotions involved in the act of signing away your children.
This brief letter from my Great Grandfather's attorney is notifying the orphanage of the death of my Great Grandmother, and leaving the decision of notifying the children up to the administrators of the orphanage. He is also asking for some sort of report from the orphanage as to the well-being of the children now that they have been in the orphanage for a few days. Note that the information about the woman who "took" the infant included her state of residence - but that conflicts with newspaper accounts which stated she was from Mobile, Alabama.
Wonderful handwritten letters from my Great Aunts who were writing to the children, checking on their condition and asking them to write to them, since they hadn't had any letters in a while. In regards to family letters, I would have loved to have the originals - but am thankful for the copies, of course.
Those who wanted to take my Grandfather into their home for apprenticeship - not adoption - were writing back and forth to the orphanage, describing their intentions and level of provision for the child, including basic education at a rural school.
Last family to host my Grandfather had to complete the Application for Child to be Taken out of the Christian Church Widows and Orphans Home of Kentucky - this outlined the family conditions and provisions that would be provided - they also specified that this was for apprenticeship and not for adoption. Again, this appears to be a form created in-house, not something produced by the state or city/county.
Without these documents, I would have very little direct information about my Great Grandparents. Their location has always been a challenge due to the state line being nearby, and each branch hailing from different states (plus a few courthouse fires in one of their native counties.) These documents provided me with the small towns they originally hailed from. Witnesses who signed the paperwork are also great clues for my future research. A timeline of my Great Grandmother's death was also included, with notes about her illness. Family information from Aunts was also invaluable - and seeing their letters was a connection to the family that subsequent generations had missed, in comparison to the wealth of connections we had for other branches of the family. Again, giving me some clues for researching the rest of the family.
When researching adoptions in Kentucky, this packet reminds us to look for the orphanage records. Sadly, there was no central location for these records. They were not transferred to KDLA, nor the local courthouse. The truth is, we don't know what happened to the records of each institution. Just remember, I'm talking about the orphanage records, not the actual adoption. There were loads of kids in the system that were never adopted, which resulted in equally parentless records. Adoptions were handled by the courts, but the orphanage records were retained on-site. Which then requires a scavenger hunt if you had any ancestors in the orphanage system. What exists? What survived? Those questions are never easily answered, simply due to the enormous amount of institutions that existed....and then faded away, along with their records.
P.S.: I recently contacted the current incarnation of the Christian Church Homes of Kentucky in Louisville - now called the Christian Care Communities. They still claim to have been around since 1884, but no longer care for children. Talking with staff, they related that the records pertaining to the orphans are stored off-site. In order to access them, they need advance notice to retrieve the appropriate box....BUT....they also need a release form from the former resident. Ummm, yeah, you read that right. I asked her about cases where the resident is deceased, and she said "sorry, we would need a release form for access." This reminds me of the hoops one has to jump through to access the Eastern State Hospital records. I'm assuming you would need to go through legal channels for access, but luckily, that's not something I need to do since I already have Grandpa's records.
For more information about recent adoptions and Kentucky law, see Kentucky statute 199.570. This was apparently created in 1956, and amended in 2005.
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