The 18th annual gathering of the Louisiana Orphan Train Society will be Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. in Lauman Hall of the Louisiana Memorial Methodist Church in Opelousas.
Organizer Flo Inhern said the group is expecting about 60 attendees "but its hard to say. We have members from all over the state and beyond."
The Orphan Train is the popular name for an adoption program that was began in 1854 by the New York Foundling Hospital.
New York was then experiencing a huge wave of immigrants, many the poorest of the poor. Because of poverty, disease and economic distress, many of their children became orphans and many ended up at the Foundling Hospital.
In an effort to fight overcrowding, the Catholic hospital began the nation's first foster care program by shipping the orphans out by the train-load to be adopted by rural Catholic families throughout the rest of the nation.
Between 1854 and 1929 more than 150,000 orphans, with numbers pinned to their clothes and accompanied by nuns, boarded trains to new homes.
More than 2,000 of these orphans came to Louisiana, primarily to St. Landry and Evangeline parishes. Inhern said her group has no idea how many local descendants there may be, but the numbers are surely in the tens of thousands.
"There are a lot we know of but many more we don't. I just picked up a new one today," she said Wednesday.
The local Orphan Train Society, made up of descendants of these original riders, has been holding annual in-gatherings since 1990.
"We have met every year since. We have met in Lafayette, in Baton Rouge, two or three times in New Orleans, but mainly here," Inhern said.
Opelousas is currently working to transform the old Union Pacific Depot in Le Vieux Village into the state's first Orphan Train museum. When completed later this year, it will be only the second such museum in the nation as well as the largest.
The local society is working with city to fill that museum with the hundreds of artifacts it has collected as well as agreeing to staff the museum.
Next month the society and the city are expected to enter into a formal agreement, most likely a long-term lease on the building.
Inhern said the theme of this year's gathering is "Orphan Train History Continues Through the Generations."
Expected to be in attendance are Alice K. Bernard, the only known surviving orphan train rider, who is a member of the Louisiana Orphan Train Society. Bernad is believed to have arrived from the New York Foundling Home in 1919. She will be escorted by her daughter Kaye.
The keynote address for the day, "Importance of Preserving History" will be delivered by James Douget.
Harold Dupre, president of LOTS and a past president of the nation society, will welcome the guests and up date them on the status of the museum.
Throughout the day there will be numerous displays and presentations.
Guest speakers will include James Douget and Julaine Schexnyder. There will also be a "Traveling Ancestry" presentation by author Michael Roger.
Anyone wishing to attend the gathering or wanting more information on LOTS is invited to contact Inhern at 942-7845 or Harold Dupre at 948-8328.