Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cayuga Asylum for Destitute Children

Working on Erastus Murray's Civil War participation rekindled my efforts at uncovering as much of the story of his family as possible.  Part of the oral history is that his children went into an orphanage around 1863 and later at least one of the children, my great-grandfather Albert, was placed in a private home.  As best I could determine, around that time there was only one orphanage in Auburn, NY, the Cayuga Asylum for Destitute Children. has a book about the orphanage so I was able to get a sense of what the facility did.  It mentioned that children were placed outside the orphanage as soon as there was an available home, so that supported the family story.

I learned the Asylum published a newspaper in support of fundraising called The Orphan's Friend.  I wondered if there was any possibility of tracking down the paper, but while doing some internet searches on that, I discovered the orphanage still exists, but in a different incarnation as the Cayuga Home for Children.  They provide services for children and families who need various types of support and assistance.  

On a whim, I decided to send an email to the general information address.  My email was pretty basic and said:
My great-great-grandfather (a mistake in the original email- -he was only my great-grandfather) was in the orphanage around 1863.  Do you have any historical records or know of a resource for me? 
I received back an unexpected response: 
I love this kind of question! 

We have most of the original ledger books listing children's placement and discharge information.  If you can give me any details you know about your great great grandfather, I'll take a look and see what I can find.  I can photocopy what we have and send it out.
I responded with the details--You can imagine  my excitement as I waited for a response to see if they found anything.  I could hardly contain myself.

And before I could post this, I got an email response and the first sentence made my heart sink:
I wish I had more information to share with you.  
But then the rest!
couldn't find anything about George in our ledger book, but did find information about Richard, Hopkins, Standford and Albert.  It's interesting that the older three were brought here the same date, and the younger one not until a year later.  I'll transcribe it here for you, and will make photocopies of the handwritten entries and send them to you along with a 150th anniversary booklet done 10 years ago - it gives a little history as well as a photo of the building where the children would have lived in the mid 1860's.  We looked several years after Albert was placed, and at other kids named George and I also searched on the name Murry as that's a name I found in some census records that seem to show the whole family in 1860 - I'm including the web addresses of a couple other mentions of the adults - I tracked them down on the Cayuga County GenWeb site, which you may already be familiar with.  You may be able to find the families the boys went to, but there's not a lot of information listed. 
It seems a common practice that children were "taken on trial" by area residents. I don't know what that meant - were they like foster children?  Where they going to be adopted?  Some kids were taken, returned, and taken again.  And we've seen the word "bound" on some records - were they like indentured servants?  I'd like to explore that sometime.

Cayuga Asylum for Destitute Children Ledger Volume 1 April 1852 - June
10, 1875

Page 68
John Richard Murray aged 11 years
Brought by the overseer poor from Auburn Jan 9th 1861.  Taken by William
Warick of Aurelius June 3rd returned June 12 taken on trial August 15 by
Solomon ??Garnber?? of Varick Seneca Co. Bound

Page 68
Hopkins Murray aged 9 years
Brought to the Asylum by overseer Tuttle Jan 9th 1861 from Auburn July
8th '65 was taken on trial by Mr. Yates of Auburn

Page 68
Stanford Murray aged 7 years Sept 18 1861
Brought to the Asylum with the above at the same date.  Was taken on
trial by Mr. Clark Cummings Groton Tompkins Co.  12 Sept '63

Page 83
Albert Murray aged 6 years March 3rd 1862
Brought to the Asylum by the overseer of the poor Feb 13th 1862  Was
taken on trial by Mr. Daniel Brink of Summer Hill Sept 9 '63

I received the copies yesterday, including:

Talk about an act of genealogical kindness.  I'm making a donation to the Cayuga Home today. 


  1. Wow, that was great information for you. Perhaps "taken in trial" mean that they were expected to work for their keep. Sounds like indentured servitude.

    The trial would be to see how they got along with the family and how hard they would work.

    It was sad for the children but I suppose that happened a lot at that time.

  2. Thank you for commenting on my blog about uncovering your family mystery! My heart goes out to these poor children who were separated from their family and then expected to work for their living at such a young age on top of that. Even though our society today isn't perfect, I am sure thankful to be living today as opposed to the 1860s!

  3. This post made my day!! I just found out today that my grandmother, in all probability, was most likely taken to the "Cayuga County Orphan Asylum". I found through the 1915 New York State census that my grandmother was still living with her parents at that time, but her 4 siblings were living at the orphanage. In the 1920 census, her siblings were all in foster care, but my grandmother had been adopted and her name was changed. (this has taken me MONTHS of searching to find out her original birth name). My grandmother died when my mother was 4, so she knows precious little about her mother. I'm going to send an email now & see what I can find. Fingers crossed!!!


  4. Good luck! Anytime you have success with orphanage research, it's pretty exciting.

  5. I just sent an email to is that the right address? thank you. so hopeful that we can find information about my 93 yr old father's father. it would make him so happy

  6. I just sent an email to is that the right address? thank you. so hopeful that we can find information about my 93 yr old father's father. it would make him so happy

  7. K and J- yes, I believe that's the email address I originally used to make my initial contact with them. Good luck! I remember how excited I was to see the documents, so I can imagine how special it will be for your father.

  8. My grandfather and his sister were placed in the Cayuga Home for Destitute Children around 1901. He speaks of the "on trial" notations that the children were being used as labor. Someone would pay to the Home a fee to take a child on trial. My grandfather's parents were still living, so there was no possibility of "adoption." It was a way to recover some funds used to support the children. My grandfather had not very kindly things to say about this system and the facility. He received no education beyond 6th grade as after that he was "farmed out" regularly enough as to make additional school impossible. Ultimately my grandfather ran away from the home and forged his own way in the world.

    1. Same story 40 years later. Sad. The farmer who took my great grandfather made a practice of it from what I could determine. Cheap labor.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I accidentally deleted your comment. Anyhow, glad the post helped