I have a significant gap in my lineage and am trying to determine additional sources to check to make the linkage.

The story goes that my many greats grandfather born in 1815 was a run away and there is no record of whom his parents are or were. One story goes he was lent out as a young child, possibly due to being orphaned, illegitimate, but somewhere in his teens ~1826-1835 he ran away and settled in Western Pennsylvania where he spent the rest of his life.

I have made some attempts to contact the Historical Society of PA researchers (was not overly impressed with their feedback as they didn't provide me anything new and only confirmed information I provided and already had sources for) and didn't come up with anything new.

I also did some online searches for orphanage records for of couple of the counties he may have potentially come from, including someone with the same last name that died leaving his children. I have a suspicion he may have adopted his last name from this individual as I can account for this individuals children's lineage and time/place work out.

To clarify he was Caucassion and his youngest child that died young spelled their last name differently than recorded on Census both with the more German spelling of Sausser vs. Souser. All children after that and his are spelled Souser. His name was Joseph Souser with no middle name known.

Note: Edited to be more specific to my research on request as original request was meant to be more general so it could help others as well.


  • Born April 1815; probably Pennsylvania but not a 100% sure of that. Confident with birth date. Answered place of birth on census as "PA". (assumed)
  • 1821 there is a death of a someone named "Sauser"/"Sausser" that had another child born 1813 in Berks Co., PA that survived. No mention of second child in documents I have encountered so far in any documents.
  • ~1826-1828 Believed have ran away and story goes he swam across the Susquehanna River; possibly 'bound out' up to that time before then. Location Unknown.
  • 1840 Registered place of residence is St. Claire Twp, Bedford, PA. I've checked with them they don't know where he came from.
  • 1840 Either before 1840 or after 1840 he was a Shoemaker's apprentice
  • 1860 Census forward a farmer.
  • 1840+ I have pretty definitive records including record of marriage.

So my questions are:

  1. Where could I check to determine someone registering or finding some information they had taken someone in (perhaps a run away or a orphan) by the person who took them in's name (and preferably also with a child first name and age at least) but not necessarily adopt them?
  2. Is there a register of assistance, run away, or something like that of church or societies that existed listing names of those assisted but not necessarily they placed into a home.
  3. Is there a register of apprenticeship agreements / or 'took someone in' (not adoption) that was required by law or was general best practice then?
  • Hi Christopher -- could you edit your question and add a brief timeline of what you already know, so we can see what records you already have? Unfortunately in cases like this, it sometimes takes a One-Place Study to solve the riddle.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 21:11
  • Welcome to G&FH SE! People here may well provide answers to one or more of your questions exactly as it/they stand. However, something to keep in mind is that it is sometimes/often easier and quicker for a single question to attract an answer. In your case the three questions may be too closely related to make separating them easy so please just take this as food for thought. Thanks for providing a great level of detail!
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 22:32

1 Answer 1

  1. Taking in a run-away orphan would probably be illegal, akin to aiding a fugitive or even kidnapping. One would be obliged to turn the child over to authorities. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 established an Orphans' Court for each county to deal with guardianship.

  2. You'll have to do some homework to find out what orphan homes existed at that time and place - orphan asylums, churches, Sisters of Charity missions, etc. A "homeless" child may also have been picked up for stealing or begging.

  3. Apprenticeship agreements were private contracts and not required to be recorded. Usually a boy had to be 12 or older. If he was "lent out" by a state-run home, they would have noted it in their books. If he ran away from his employer, there was probably no record, unless he was indentured (owed time or money). In that case, there may have been newspaper ads calling for his capture and return.

Did he have siblings who were also orphaned, but did not run away? That would be the best way to trace their history. Perhaps they reunited later in life.

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