Records Available For Orphans
Examining the records of family members who were orphans can be a rewarding experience. Recently, visitors to the Madison County History Center were both surprised and delighted after spending time looking at the records of their family members on file there.
In November 2008, permission was obtained from Superior Court Division II Judge Jack Brinkman to seek information about the Calvin A. Bronnenberg Orphans’ Home records. I contacted Gary Williams, the superintendent of Madison County Youth Center, who offered to give the records to the Madison County Historical Society.
On January 26 of this year, I made a trip to the Mounds Road facility where I obtained the Bronnenberg Home records from its beginning through 1959. Because of confidentiality issues, it was decided to retain the records dated after 1959 at the Youth Center. Included in what I obtained were the records from the county’s first orphan’s home on Columbus Avenue in Anderson. Since delivering the records to the History Center, two Historical Society volunteers, Leota Jones and Laura Terrell, have been busy entering the names into a computerized database.
Unfortunately, we know that some records are missing, but we have in our database the names of 718 children from the Columbus Avenue home and 1,340 children from the Bronnenberg Home. In addition, we have two books containing the names of 1,253 children from the Columbus Avenue home and 1, 190 children from the Bronnenberg Home. All totaled we have records of 4,501 children placed in the two homes from March 7, 1885 through 1959.
Because of the sensitive nature of the information, the society has implemented some guidelines for access to the records. We request that before visiting, you make a telephone call to determine if we have the name you are seeking. If we do, an appointment will be made for you to come in. Persons desiring copies of the information may have them for a nominal fee.
The two facilities have a long history of service. Before 1885, little was done to care for the orphans and friendless children of the county. It was not until March 6, 1885, that any official action was taken by the board of county commissioners. The records for that date contain the following entry: “It is ordered by the board that a home for the friendless and orphan children of Madison County, Indiana, be purchased and established at such place in said county as said board of commissioners may designate.” On March 17, 1886, Decatur Vandeventer and his wife transferred 10 acres to the county as a site for an orphans home. It was on a tract of land fronting east on Columbus Avenue and north on 25th Street. The old residence on the property was used as the home. From 40 to 60 children were placed annually in good homes during 38 years of operation. The home, with some improvements, continued until the creation of the Calvin A. Bronnenberg Orphans’ Home, which was completed in1924.
The new home was a two-story brick building capable of housing 106 children. It was situated near the center of the old 256-acre Bronnenberg farm, east of Anderson on Mounds Road. The home was dedicated September 11, 1924. It operated for the next 71 years, closing its doors March 7, 1995. Many children passed beneath the beautiful arch bearing the inscription “The Calvin A. Bronnenberg Orphans’ Home” during the intervening years.
One of those children, now grown, and relatives of two other children recently visited the Madison County History Center. Having learned that we had the records, they came to see them. The first was Wilbur Osborn, a member of the Society. By a strange twist of fate, he stopped in during the very time his deceased aunt’s records were being entered into the database. He learned they were both residents of the Columbus Avenue home and not the Bronnenberg Home as he had thought. Upon examining the paperwork he learned more information he had not previously known. Later, he shared the new-found information with the daughter of his aunt, which was unknown to her as well.
The Rev. Paul Armstrong from Missoula, Montana, visited the History Center in mid-May. He was seeking information about himself. During his visit he learned names and addresses not previously known to him which was helpful in his search to know more about his early life. The most rewarding visit for all involved occurred on May 4. Five members of one family from Soldontna, Alaska, arrived seeking the records of two brothers who had lived at the Columbus Avenue home. The group consisted of a brother and sister, both children of one of the brothers, their spouses and a granddaughter, all descendants of John McFarland. The family was in the area visiting and, since none of them had been to Anderson before, decided to see where their father had lived and what they could learn about his early life.
After visiting the Anderson Public Library, they were directed first to the Madison County Youth Center where they learned the records had been moved to the History Center. Being a Saturday, the History Center was closed so they waited until Monday when they arrived shortly after it opened. Upon their inquiry it was determined that the History Center had the records of both John McFarland and his brother, Guy. It would be an understatement to say it was an emotional moment for all involved. The family was ushered into a room where the records were examined. Much information was learned and questions were answered that previously were unanswered.
The Madison County Historical Society is pleased to announce the availability of these valuable records and to offer them as a service to those seeking answers to their past.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
Sunday, July 19, 2009, The Herald Bulletin
Madison County Historical Society is located at 15 West 11th Street, Anderson, Indiana. Mail any correspondence to MCHS, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, IN 46015-0696. The office phone number is (765) 683-0052. We are open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.