Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Alone and Afraid. Christine Johnson

Imagine losing your parents at a young age. Your whole life would be turned upside down. According to family stories, my great-grandfather and his brother arrived in this country as orphans. They were fortunate. A family here gave them a home and a new last name. How scared they must have been in that time between losing their parents and finding a new home. How would they survive in a strange country? Would they have to work in order to eat? Where would they stay? How would they get by when they didn’t understand the language?

Many of us are fortunate enough to only imagine such a thing, but for hundreds of thousands of children in 19th century America, that scenario played out again and again. Many of those orphans were children of immigrants, with no relatives who could care for them and no generous family to take them in. They ended up in orphanages or on the streets. Unwanted. Hungry. Often reviled.

By the mid-1800s, city orphanages were crowded, and many other orphaned children roamed the streets scavenging for food and other necessities. That’s when the idea of sending orphans away from the squalor of the cities to small towns and farms took hold. People like Charles Loring Brace of the Children’s Aid Society believed these children could get a fresh start in kind, Christian homes in Middle America. Thus was born what we now call the Orphan Train movement.


The first orphans sent west by train arrived in Dowagiac, Michigan in 1854. After the success in placing the children there, trainloads of orphans continued to be sent west from eastern seaboard cities through the late 1920s. Some found wonderful new families, some did not adjust to the change, and others ended up in bad situations. PBS aired a wonderful program on Orphan Trains in their American Experience series (

I am blessed that my parents are still living. There have been times, though, when I felt alone and afraid. One time before I carried a cell phone, my car died on the side of the expressway far from home. The world suddenly became a scary place. Praise God, help arrived. Have you ever experienced a time when you felt very much alone?

Leave a comment today for a chance to win my May book, The Marriage Barter, the second book in the Orphan Train series!

In Love Inspired Historical’s Orphan Train series, the last unclaimed orphans on a train headed through Nebraska meet disaster when robbers attack the train. The series starts in April with Allie Pleiter’s Family Lessons, continues in May with my book, The Marriage Barter, and wraps up in June with Linda Ford’s The Baby Compromise. Though these orphans have good people advocating for them, frightening circumstances leave them feeling alone and afraid. In time they learn that love can conquer the most frightened heart and create new families from the broken shards of our lives.

The Marriage Barter
Christine Johnson

The Marriage Barter

Love Inspired Historical
May 2013


Karen Kirst said...

That's an amazing cover, Christine! Love her dress :D This sounds like an interesting series. Congrats!

Pamela Tracy said...

I love the Orphan Train stories. I remember reading a children's series when I was young. And, of course, anything from Nebraska is good. Go Big Red.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Karen! The art department did a great job with the cover, didn't they? I love the covers they put together month after month. When you think of how many they need to design, it's really quite amazing.

Christine Johnson said...

Pamela, there's something about the orphan train experience that grabs the imagination. To the child it's both scary and a huge chance for happiness.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

You are in my Kindle. I am so glad you are part of this series!

Peace, Julie

Debby Giusti said...

Christine, you have a very real connection with the orphan experience that, I'm sure, will add an emotional deminsion to your story. Thanks for sharing the hardships your great-grandfather and his brother had to face. I can't imagine being in that position as a child.

Tell me how you three gals got together for the series. Did the editors invite you to write the stories or did you brainstorm the idea on your own?

An Orphan Train story always catches my eye and my interest! Congrats to all three of you!

Leann said...

I love the idea of the orphan train and your connection. It captures a person's imagination. Look forward to reading it.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Julie! ((waving)) So glad you stopped by.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Debby. The editors did invite us to write the stories, but we also did a lot of brainstorming. That was my favorite part. I loved working with Allie and Linda and figuring out together how to flesh out the ideas into fully realized stories. All three of us needed to know every little detail. That was a new experience for me, but it was one that I relished. Allie and Linda taught me so much.

I had already researched the Orphan Train experience for one of my earlier books, The Matrimony Plan, so I had a good foundation on that subject. The Matrimony Plan deals with the ending years of the movement. It was fun to explore the early years in this book.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Leann! Thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the book!

Wendy Newcomb said...

This sounds sooo good, thank you for the chance to win it. Beautiful cover!


Christine Johnson said...

Congratulations, Wendy! You've won a copy of The Marriage Barter. I'll contact you via email for a mailing address.

Thank you everyone for stopping by!

Wendy Newcomb said...

Thank you, I'm looking forward to reading The Marriage Barter, it sounds great.

Heidi said...

Books about the orphan trains have fascinated me ever since I read the series by Joan Lowry Nixon as a pre-teen. I love the fiction books with personal stories and happy endings and also the non-fiction books with the black and white facts.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Heidi! One thing that amazed me when I dug into the history of the movement was how long it lasted. From the mid-1800s until 1930ish. I especially enjoyed interviews and narratives from some of those orphans. Not from when they were little but many years later. Their experiences were each so very different and ran the full range from very good to very bad.