Days at the Orphans’ Home

My great-grandfather, George Weil, grew up in an orphans’ home in Pennsylvania. This unique time in his life always intrigued me, because we never knew much about his time there. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot more about his story.

Weil_Geo_1904_Concordia_front_MarwoodPA
George Weil and his friend August Potrafke at the Orphans’ Home in 1904 when they were both 15 years old. George looks small for his age!

As I mentioned in a previous post, George’s mother, Louise, died in 1898 when George was 9 years old. They lived in Pittsburgh at the time, and he had one older brother and three younger siblings. His father, Conrad, apparently couldn’t take care of the five children on his own. A month after her death, he placed the four oldest children under the care of Concordia Orphans’ Home in nearby Jefferson, Butler County, PA. I don’t know what happened to the youngest child, Anna Louise. She was only one year old, and would have been too young to give to the orphanage. I presume she had either died before then, or was taken in by another family.

The Concordia Orphans’ Home was located near the Marwood train station, and is part of what is now Cabot township. It would have been a morning’s train ride and then a one hour walk from the train station to the orphanage. In 1898, it was part of a larger property that also housed a senior living home. Luckily, the organization is still in business as a senior living facility, now called Concordia Lutheran Ministries. They were kind enough to search through the archives for me to find some wonderful gems!

The children are living at the orphanage in 1900 when the census is taken. We had never been certain when the children were given to the orphanage. Not only was I able to get the entrance papers for the children, but also their discharge dates and tidbits about their lives from the housefather’s journals!

Weil_George_Concordia_agreement
The surrender agreement between the father (Conrad) and Concordia Orphans’ Home to surrender each child to the care of the home. Source: correspondence with Concordia Lutheran Ministries

Their father, Conrad, agreed to pay $12 per month to house all four children. He lived for a few years as a laborer in nearby Pittsburgh, and by 1910 has moved closer to the orphanage to work in a local coal mine. It seems that he may have had occasional contact with his children through the years, but lost touch with George, Marie and Conrad when they got older.

Mr. H.W. Lensner was the housefather for all the years that my family members lived at the orphanage. According to excerpts of the housefather’s journals and CLM blog posts, life was not easy there. High standards were kept for behavior, classwork and chores. However, the children would often get into mischief, sometimes in serious trouble. My great-grandfather George was rarely mentioned in the housefather’s journals, except for two occasions when mischief could have caused him serious harm. In July 1899, the housefather notes that George fell from the loft in the barn where the children weren’t allowed. He suffered from a concussion (He wrote, “I thought to have a dead child in my arms.”) but later recovered. Two years later, “George Weil and George Moser ate some mushrooms yesterday, and today are rather sick.” They apparently recovered from that excitement as well.

Concordia_GroupPhoto_1908
The children at Concordia Orphans’ Home in about 1907-1908. George had already left to go to school, but the younger siblings were still living at the orphanage. Conrad Jr. is in the third row, furthest to the left, and Marie is the third girl from the right in the back row. The housefather and director, Henry W. Lensner, who wrote the house journals, is in the center with his wife Louisa. Source: correspondence with Concordia Lutheran Ministries

George’s brother Karl caused more headaches for Mr. Lensner. He ran away from the home at least three times, once having to be tracked down and brought back by his father. Another time in early 1901, he broke into the housefather’s office and stole some money. He lied about what happened and forced another boy to take the blame. He was later found out. Mr. Lensner said, “Made more sad discoveries in the evening. Either some of the lying thieves must leave or I am not staying any longer […] Carl Weil, who always behaved real well outwardly, is the thief and rascal. […] Carl Weil, the arch hypocrite, again escaped. The police are after him.” A few months later, he was returned to live with his father. I presume that he was too much of a handful and “rascal” to stay at the orphans’ home any longer.

Lesson learned: Never be afraid to ask and also don’t be afraid to ask twice.

[To be continued…]

To read more about Concordia Orphans’ Home, visit their blog and search for “Humble Beginnings” to view the various posts about their time as an orphanage.

Sources:

  • Excerpts and student lists from the housefather’s journals: “Journals of the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Orphanage and Old Folks Home” Journal entries made by housefathers and superintendents, from 1883-1935. Provided by Concordia Lutheran Ministries via email.
  • Concordia Lutheran Ministries blog, Humble Beginnings series.
  • “The Concordia Story, 1881-2006,” history published for the 125th anniversary of Concordia Lutheran Ministries in 2006.
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7 thoughts on “Days at the Orphans’ Home

  1. I’m enjoying reading your blog. My husband’s grandfather spent time at Concordia as well, about 1908-1911. Do you have the names of everybody in the photo?

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  2. Hi Sara! I’m really glad that you enjoyed reading this post! Your husband’s grandfather may have known my great-grandfather! Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone’s names in the photo, except for my ancestors. I had one other photo of the siblings, which was probably taken on the same day. I was able to identify them in the group photo from facial features and their clothing. The orphanage is still in business as a retirement living center. They have been wonderful in assisting with my research, and have provided me with documents relating to my ancestors. You may want to contact them to see if they have identified anyone in the group photo, and if they have any other documents about your husband’s grandfather’s stay there. I initially contacted them through their website: http://www.concordialm.org/contact and I selected “Concordia at Cabot” as the location. What was his grandfather’s name? I can look through the journal entry pages that I have to see if he’s mentioned.

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    1. Hi EvaAnne! Thanks for writing back to me. My husband’s grandfather was William or Wilhelm Braun, who was in the orphanage along with siblings Walter and Dorothea (Dora). I was in touch with somebody at Concordia many years ago who sent me copies of the family’s admission/release records and a history of the home. Now that I’ve pulled them out to look at them again, I see they entered Concordia on April 8, 1910, so I guess they would not be in your photo. Dora left to live with her father in 1912, but the boys remained at Concordia until 1917. I think I’ll write to Concordia and see if they have any photos or journals from this time that might include our family. We do have a copy of William’s confirmation certificate from Concordia, which is really neat to have. It’s written entirely in German.

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      1. Sara, I checked in the copies that I have gotten of the journal entries from Concordia. I didn’t see a mention of any of the Brauns, but there wasn’t much overlap between them and my ancestors. You could try following up with Concordia again, and perhaps they can help you! There was someone working with the house journals when I contacted them last year, and so she was easily able to look up stuff for me. I’m glad you have some of the admission/release records, and the confirmation certificate! I got those too, and they were so cool for me to see.

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    1. Nice to meet you! Our great-grandfathers must have been very good friends because they had their picture taken together! It’s the earliest photo that we have of George too.
      Would you like me to look through the records that I have to see if they mention August?

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