Finding Lost Childhoods
The picture above is one of several from the Bronnenberg Home. This photo was taken in 1936 and shows a group of boys on the grounds of the Bronnenberg Orphan's Home. It was this photograph that led to the discovery of one man's father and two uncles who he had not seen photographs of until much later in their lives. Approximately 10 of the boys have been positively identified. If you have someone in this picture you recognize and are sure of the identification, please contact Stephen Jackson, 15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696; (765)683-0052.
One year has passed since the Madison County Historical Society announced the availability of the county's orphanage records for public access. The response we received was extremely gratifying. It began the day following the announcement when phone calls and visitors began arriving. Most were seeking information about their family members while others were seeking information about themselves.
The Society had acquired the records of more than 4,500 children who had been residents of the Madison County Children's Home on Columbus Avenue in Anderson and the Calvin A. Bronnenberg Orphan's Home on Mounds Road. Those records covered a period from March, 1885 through 1959; 74 years.
Thirty-seven inquiries have been received in the last year. In only one instance did we not have the records being sought; that was because the child was a resident at the Bronnenberg Home after 1959, and we do not have those records.
Roughly 80% of the inquiries have been for children in the Bronnenberg Home, which is to be expected as the previous home at 2516 Columbus Avenue closed in September, 1924. The 20% who have inquired about children who lived there were looking for either older parents or grandparents.
In all of the inquiries, we have been able to provide copies of information that, for many, had not been known before. Emotions were high as, one by one, the records were examined revealing names, dates and places previously unknown.
The most rewarding part of the whole experience was to listen to each person, and sometimes multiple family members, recount what they knew, or thought they knew, about a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister, brother or cousin. Sometimes what they learned brought laughter, but many times tears.
Without exception, at the conclusion of their visit, each one left with a smile and handshake, grateful to have the information that in many cases provided answers to questions they had sought for many years. There was a sense that a new understanding of their particular situation had been realized.
We have had some really heart-warming stories as well. A man came in seeking information about his personal records and in the process was able to uncover a great deal about his past. Because our records opened some doors for him, he was able to obtain some information in other places. One week after he left, another man came seeking information about the same family.
It was quickly realized the two men were brothers. Both had traveled great distances to Anderson from different parts of the country. Each one knew of the others existence but had lost contact over the years. Part of what we do when someone comes in is to obtain an address and phone number in case something arises after the visit. A phone call was placed, and the two brothers were reunited.
Not all of the inquiries have been personal visits, which is why the next story was so rewarding. It began with an e-mail sent to the Society from a man living in North Carolina. He was seeking information about his father and three uncles, all brothers, who were residents of the Bronnenberg Home in the late '20s and early '30s.
We had their records, including medical, alone with those of two sisters. I replied, informing him of what we had and asked if he wanted to have copies of the information mailed. He wrote back immediately saying he did not want to wait on the mail. Could the information be sent electronically? He was so excited he did not want to lose any time in getting the information. He also asked if we had any photographs of his family members.
I informed him we did not have photographs of individual persons, but we have group pictures of children taken at various times. All were dated, and the dates were well after the time his family members were there, except one photograph that was undated. All of the records were scanned and e-mailed, including the one undated photograph.
A quick response was received, thanking us for the records. Two days later, another e-mail arrived exclaiming the discovery of the man's father and two of the three brothers in the undated photograph. Positive identification was made using later images he had in his possession. He was thrilled beyond words because he had never seen what his father looked like at an early age. There was no doubt in his mind it was him.
We benefited as well from the discovery, because he was able to approximate his father's age in the photograph. Since we knew his birth date from the records, we had an approximate date on the photo plus the names of three children in the picture.
The 36 successful inquiries have yielded the records of 107 children. Each one has brought a certain level of joy to the persons seeking information and answers to the past. And, for the members of the Society, we have been rewarded beyond measure.
With these records, we look forward to future successes and the hope that we can brighten the days ahead for many deserving individuals.
Our sincere thanks and appreciation is extended to Gary Williams, Superintendent, Madison County Youth Center, who first offered to give the records to the Madison County Historical Society. Without his generosity many people would still be wondering about their past.
By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)firstname.lastname@example.org