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Ask a Genealogist: Brooklyn Children's Aid Society records

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I am researching two things: 1. When my grandmother, Theresa Sylva, was brought over from Europe and 2. Who her family was? I am using and other online sources. I know that she was placed out from the Brooklyn Children's Aid Society in 1913 as a Mothers Helper but do not know when she was taken from "the aunt" or why other than "abuse". How can I get police/court records? How do I check the ships logs when she didn't bring herself over but was brought over? My grandmother was actually born outside Greece in 1897. I do not have any family names except a possible name of Phillip for her father. She would not speak "the aunts" name ever. She was taken away but I have no dates.


By Rhonda McClure, NEHGS Genealogist

The Brooklyn Children’s Aid Society was founded in 1853 by Charles Loring Brace. Today it is known as the Children’s Aid Society. The reason this is important is that when an old establishment such as this is still in operation, under a different name, they often give some detailed history about the organization as well as possibly indicating where some of the records may be for the older years.

The Brooklyn Children’s Aid Society was heavily involved in the Orphan Train movement that resulted in approximately 150,000 abandoned, abused and orphaned children being placed in families in the west in an effort to supply them with better home lives. You did not mention where your grandmother was placed as a “mother’s helper,” but this movement affected a number of children in New York City.

On The Children’s Aid Society web site under their About section is a link to the History of the society. Housed here is reference to the Victor Remer Historical Archives <> which lists a finding aid to the records in this archival collection, which are maintained by the New-York Historical Society. You will want to comb through this online finding aid to see if any of the case files or register books could answer some of your questions.

In regard to ship logs, more often referred to as passenger lists, everyone who was on board the ship would be listed on the manifest. However, if her name was changed after she was taken from her “aunts” then it may be more difficult to locate her in the passenger lists.

You did not mention who she married or when, but if she married after 1922, then she would have had to apply for naturalization on her own, she would not have ben automatically a U.S. citizen upon marriage. Naturalization records of this period are valuable in regard to the information supplied about place and date of birth. It would not supply the names of her parents, but could assist with locating her birth in Greece and this getting her parents’ names that way.

In regard to police/court records in regard to abuse, the court records may be easier to find. You will want to search for court records for Kings County, New York. However, it is possible that given the time frame in question you may discover some restrictions of the records. They will not be available online though. You may wish to visit the New York State Unified Courts System page for Brooklyn and call to find out where earlier records may be housed and what restrictions exist. Initially you are in need of a docket entry if your grandmother’s aunts were brought before the courts.

First though, I would suggest approaching the records of the Victor Remer Historical Archives to determine when she was removed and placed in the Brooklyn Children’s Aid Society. The intake registers often indicate the issues of why a child was brought, but more importantly will give you a date or at least a year with which to research the court records.

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