Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Orphan Packet

In a previous post, I had put out a family 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.

Correspondence:
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.

Letterheads:
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"
These two letterheads may point me into the direction of more documents. The Kentucky Board of Health records may be too difficult to obtain without a lawyer, but the Red Cross may be an avenue of pursuit in the future.

Application:
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 Papers:
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.
A brief "Health Record" was attached for my Grandfather, stating that he had had measles in 1926.

Attorney Correspondence:
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.
Family Correspondence:
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.
Host Correspondence:
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.
Application for Removal:
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.
Conclusion:
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.

2 comments:

Sharon Dowling said...

My mother was in the Christian Church Widows & Orphans Home at the same time as your grandfather. She died in 1999 at the age of 81. Her mother placed her along with 2 of her 3 brothers in the orphanage after their father died at the age of 29 in a hunting accident. Louisville was very far from their home in Elkhorn City, KY. There were many relatives in the area but I assume they were all too poor to take them in. Her older brother was probably too old to be accepted and stayed with other family. Their mother died a few years after they were put in the orphanage but my mother never found out what caused her death from either the orphanage or other relatives. When she got ovarian cancer, she always wondered if her mother had died from cancer. It would have been helpful to know. I have a picture of one of her brothers sitting in the same chair as the picture of your grandfather. Maybe I should try to contact the Christian Church. Thanks for all your information.

Cheri Daniels said...

The stories that seem to come from this place are utterly sad...so much loss for young children. Our story of why their aunts/uncles didn't take them centered on the fact that neither side approved of their marriage, and the dying mother didn't want her children to get poisonous impressions of their opposite sided family members. Louisville was too far to keep in close contact. My advice - yes! Call them and ask to access the records. You may have to prove familial descent, but push to get them - they belong to your family! Hopefully they will help fill in the blanks!
Good luck!

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