This project focused on recovering the historical experience of orphanhood in 19th-20th century Transylvania from multiple perspectives.

What did being an orphan mean at this time and in this context? Where can information on being raised by guardians or tutors, being sent to foster homes and entering the asylums of the late 19th and early 20th century be found, and how should it be critically evaluated?

The project team scoured local archives in Transylvania, from Alba to Oradea, from Timișoara to Târgu Mureș and Bistrița-Năsăud, in search of documentation that could shed light on how orphans’ estates were administered, who wielded parental authority over them once their fathers or mothers had passed, and how they fared under diverse conditions. We drew on judicial documents issued by various authorities to examine procedures of handling orphans’ affairs, which were still under development in the late 19th century. We also looked in various tutelage proceedings to search for and recover orphans’ subjectivities, and to see to what extent they had any agency or say in who they lived with after their parents’ passing, and who cared for them and their wealth.

We also looked towards Budapest, where the central authorities sought to tackle the matter of orphans (and foundlings) after the administrative reorganization of Hungary in 1877, and in the process renegotiated the division of responsibility for these children between the local authorities at county level and the government. We examined and partially translated some of the main speeches in the Chambers of the Hungarian Parliament concerning the situation of orphans, to show the diverse motivations behind the package of laws targeting orphan welfare.

We examined certain groups of orphans more closely, such as the offspring left behind by the Greek Catholic clergy, or those who entered the foster system and passed through the state asylums of early 20th century Hungary.

Finally, we shared and compared these findings in a workshop hosted at the Centre for Population Studies in Cluj-Napoca, finding common ground with other similar studies conducted in 20th century Greece, post-WW1 Budapest, or the late Ottoman Empire.