Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised foster care program that transported orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children from crowded cities on the East Coast, especially New York City, to primarily rural areas in the United States and Canada. Although the children, often referred to as riders, were sent all over the U. S., the majority were taken to the Midwest on trains that made selected stops along the way.

     Many of the children, particularly in New York City, lived in poverty, often with unfit parents, who were abusive, alcoholics, or criminals. In an age when large families were common, some of the abandoned children simply could not be properly cared for by their parents due to inadequate housing or lack of finances. Some were illegitimate or just plain unwanted. Others became orphans when their parents and other relatives died in epidemics, such as yellow fever, typhoid, or the flu.

     At the time, almshouses and orphan asylums were the only social services available to destitute and homeless “street urchins.” To aid in helping solve the problem, the Children’s Aid Society was established in 1853. Later, the New York Foundling Hospital, another charitable institution, joined in the effort. From 1854 to 1929, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 children were placed in foster homes through utilization of the orphan trains.

     One of the many orphan train riders was Anna Kellershon. The following is her story as told by her niece, Barbara Hurn, on 22 December 2002.

     Anna, nicknamed "Annie," was born on 23 June 1892, birth place and surname unknown. Growing up in an orphanage, Annie recalled very little about her early life. The few recollections she had were unpleasant so she did not talk much about her stay in the orphanage. She remembered the porridge was "thinned" whenever a new group of children arrived in order to have enough food for everyone. As a result, Annie suffered painfully from rickets. She also remembered coming on a train from New York and her unwillingness to part with another little girl when they were taken off the train.

     Annie was sent to Iowa when she was approximately seven years old. After the train’s arrival in Iowa, a Catholic priest put the orphans in a buggy and went around to various farms, asking the farmers if they could take a child. William (E. W.) Kellershon and his wife, Frederika, took Annie. After losing his first wife in childbirth, William remarried to Barbara Burgart and they raised Annie, along with their own children, in New Hampton, Chickasaw County, Iowa. All the children grew up in the Catholic faith.

     When she reached adulthood, Annie became the housekeeper for a young Catholic priest, Father Joseph P. Quinn, in Britt, Hancock County, Iowa. Since Annie did not drive, every year or two, Father Quinn would drive Annie to visit her sister, Irene Hurn, who lived in Algona, Kossuth County, Iowa. Because he and his dog were inseparable, Father Quinn always brought the brown mutt along for the visit, too.

     Annie continued to work for Father Quinn after his retirement due to ill health and stayed with him until his death. Since he had no relatives, he left his house and all his possessions to Annie. She sold the house and moved to Algona to be near her sister, Irene.

     While living in Algona, Annie worked as a housekeeper for Mr. Hutchinson, a lawyer in Algona. After Hutchinson died, Annie retired.

     At some point after reaching adulthood, the other girl who had come to Iowa on the same orphan train and was close to Annie during the trip from New York, ran a newspaper ad, trying to locate Annie. As a result, the two women were very happy to find each other again because both always felt they were sisters. From that time on, they kept in touch.

     Never married, Annie died in January 1973 in a nursing home in Algona. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Algona, Iowa. (End)

     When one views various records concerning Anna on, the documents do not mention her being an orphan train rider. Like modern birth records that show the names of the adopted parents as the birth parents when an official adoption has taken place, several census records show Annie with the same background, such as the birth place of the parents, as the Kellershon children. One reason the information appears that way is because, in that era, adoption was not readily acknowledged the way it is today. So the subject was not widely discussed, even among relatives.

     Due to these factors, Annie’s birthplace is sometimes listed on federal censuses as Iowa. On the 1915 Iowa state census and the 1930 U. S. census, however, Anna gives her birthplace as New York. But that may be based on the fact that she came to Iowa from New York.

     Her date of birth also varies in records. The Social Security Death Index gives it as 21 December 1891. The 1900 federal census states it is June 1892, while her tombstone only has 1892.

     Anna appears as one of the first individuals named on a compiled list of orphan train riders to Iowa, which can be found at The list also shows a Lena Kellershon, who was taken in Algona by (1) Father Quinn, and (2) E. W. Kellershon. Was she the same person as Anna or a different child? Perhaps the answer will be discovered in the future.

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