A Young Man in Search of His Parents, 1913

The following letter was sent to the managers of an orphanage by a member of the U.S. Navy in 1913. The young man had been searching for his parents for years without success. In the early decades of the century, professionals who worked for institutions and agencies frequently acted as agents of disclosure and helped teenagers and adults locate long-lost relatives. During this period, sloppy or non-existent records were much greater obstacles to search and reunion than policies of confidentiality and sealed records. In this case, the superintendent scoured the orphanage records and went to see the letter-writer in person, but no clues about this young man’s background could ever be found. Child welfare advocates in the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Child Welfare League of America insisted on minimum standards, including improved record-keeping practices, so that children placed away from their families—whether temporarily or permanently—could be given the answers they wanted.

Dear Madam:

Will i asked you to do me a great favor i have not asked since i left the home 10 or 11 years ago because I did not fell it like i do when traveling around the world. Will you please look in the old records and see if you can trace up my father and mother. i don’t know or have never remember seeing since leaving the dear old homestead i hope to visit probley this summer in my Uniform. My father name i think is Richard _____ and mother Susan _____ i doing well i join to see the world and save some money so i could see some part of the world if i knew where my mother was i would not Join the navy. Some time i get a thinking about the _____ Orphan Asylum & mother & i sit down & hold my face & cry. As i grow up in manhood with no one to love but God i feel like a lost sheep. Im 23 years old now & Nov 7, 1916 i will be 27 years old. Miss _____, Directress, will you please investigate & find out something. Some yrs ago Mr. _____ said he thought they were up in New York State in the poor house. i been searching for the last 6 yrs. I doing find & i have not had a sick day since i left the grand old home.

I remain,

Yours sincerely,


Source: Georgia G. Ralph, Elements of Record Keeping for Child-Helping Organizations (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1915), 5.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
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