The Boßecker Newsletter

Volume 3 Issue 2 Spring 1998


THE ORPHAN TRAINS - Doris (Ritzius) Leeper

From the time I was a little girl, living in Fort Wayne, the following story was told. "One day around 1889 Grandma and Grandpa Grossman heard the Orphan Train was coming. Curious, they traveled from their home in Cowling, Illinois to Decatur, Illinois to see what 'this Orphan Train thing' was all about. Upon arrival at the Decatur railroad depot, the Grossmans saw children all lined up in a row and many of these people standing around looking at the children. The Grossmans watched these children being chosen one by one by these families and led away from the group until just one skinny little boy was left. Grandma and Grandpa Grossman looked at each other, had a little talk, and quickly decided to take the little boy that I knew as Uncle Al."

When I heard this story told in my family I was always sad to think of these many children herded up from who knows where, crowded into a train and then moved across the country with the idea that someone might select them for their own.

It wasn't until I read the article by D.D. Jackson in the August 1986 Smithsonian Magazine that I realized the magnitude of this undertaking known as the Orphan Trains.

From 1854 to 1929 about 150,000 orphans were shipped by railroad from cities in the east to foster homes in the rural midwest. Not all the children were orphans, but did have parents who chose to send their children to a place where they felt they would be provided with a better life.

The father of this program was an idealistic theologian named Charles Loring Brace. Shocked by the spectacle of

thousands of children sleeping in doorways and stealing in order to survive in New York City in the early 1850's, Brace and other reformers founded The Children's Aid Society.

Brace believed orphan asylums and similar institutions did nothing to liberate street children from poverty and hopelessness. What they needed, he felt, was a chance to grow up as a part of a family. Brace wrote:

"Farmers were our most solid and intelligent class, and westerners possessed a peculiar warm heartedness and sense of equality that ennobled them."

Thus, the Orphan Trains were created.

In September 1854, after a year of preparation, the first train left New York bound for southwestern Michigan with 47 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 15 aboard. Their chaperone described the trip as exciting when the children first saw rural America from the train window. Thus began a scenario that lasted for many years.

The Children's Aid Society, after collecting the children, would first establish legal guardianship. If the parents were alive they had to relinquish custody to the Society. The Society's western agents found likely towns where committees of local leaders were formed. Advertisements appeared in the town newspaper:


Prospective parents could obtain application forms from the local committee.

The arrival of the Orphan Train was a spectacular event. It attracted an audience every time. One local paper published an account of the event:

"The greatest contest was the possession of a sweet-faced modest girl of fourteen. There was as many of a dozen that wanted her."

The Children's Aid Society rated its transplanted wards "successful" if the children grew into creditable members of society. Frequent reports documented success stories. A 1910 survey concluded that 87% of the children sent to country homes had done well, while 8% had returned to New York and the other 5% died, disappeared or soiled the record by getting arrested.

There are many stories of mistreatments. Some children were treated like slaves, some siblings were separated, etc. On the other hand, there are stories of some children becoming equal members of the families, of the parents seeing to education, even to the college level.

"Because of its pioneering nature, the system Brace devised had its flaws, but throughout the last half of the 19th century it proved the most effective means of dealing with child vagrancy, demonstrating that institutionalizing orphaned and unwanted children was by no means the only option available. If the children sent west on these trains did not rise from rags to riches most appeared to have better lives as a result of being relocated" according to Leslie Wheeler who wrote about Orphan Trains in American Illustrated History in 1983.

My Uncle Al Reeves (he kept his own surname) later reunited with his mother in the east. Al Reeves married and often brought his family to visit Grossman relatives who settled in Allen County, Indiana. He became a flower grower and supplied florists in suburban Detroit. Later he sold his flower plot to an early land developer and when Uncle Al died he was considered a wealthy man.


This issue's centerfold has part 1 of the first 3 generations of the Johannes Boßecker family. Due to the size of Johannes's family, I will have to spread Johannes's 14 children over 2 issues.
Click here to see the centerfold.


Here are more Boßecker descendant veterans that have been documented since the last issue. Another female veteran is documented in this group.

Charles H. Deahl [1897-1974].
WW I, Great-Grandson-in-law of Peter Boßecker.

Lawrence E. Boseker [1907-1972].
United States Navy, WWII.
Great-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker.

Eugene W. Grossman [1921-1975]
Pfc, United States Marine Corps, WWII.
GG-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker.

Charles H. Kirsch [1928-1983]
Musician 2nd Class, United States Navy, 1946-1948.
GG-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker

Melva L. (Rabenneck) Bosecker [Born:1934]
Airman 1st Class, United States Air Force, 1953-1957.
GG-Granddaughter-in-law of Karl Boßecker.

Don C. Anderson [Born:1931]
United States Air Force, 1954-1956.
GG-Grandson-in-law of Johannes Boßecker.


Mark Andrew Riggs, GGG-Grandson of Karl Boßecker, was born on 2 May 1998.

Ashley Elizabeth Bosecker, GGGG-Granddaughter of Karl Boßecker, was born on 12 May 1998 at Jacksonville, FL.

Samuel Peter Fellwock, GGGG-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker, was born on ** *** **** at Oklahoma City, OK.


Alvan Rough
[30 Jan 1904 - 28 Jul 1997], Great-Grandson-in-law of Karl Boßecker, passed away at the age of 93 years, 5 months and 28 days.

Carl Henry Valentine Kobel
[13 Nov 1907 - 1 Jan 1998], GG-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker, passed away at the age of 90 years, 1 month and 19 days.

Helene (Bosecker) Sooy
[7 Feb 1909 - 1 Sep 1997], Great-Granddaughter of Johannes Boßecker, passed away at the age of 88 years, 6 months and 25 days.

Mildred (Smith) Frese
[25 May 1912 - 17 Oct 1997], Great-Granddaughter-in-Law of Karl Boßecker, passed away at the age of 85 years, 4 months and 21 days.

Elizabeth Louise (Reisinger) Painter
[12 Feb 1916 - 14 Feb 1998], GG-Granddaughter of Johannes Boßecker, passed away at the age of 82 years and 2 days.

Robert Max Kirsch
[15 Jul 1926 - 17 Apr 1998] , GG-Grandson of Johannes Boßecker, passed away at the age of 71 years, 9 months and 2 days.

This page was posted on 12 Aug 1998.

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