There were many orphanages and orphan asylums in the 19th century. I have begun transcribing records for New York State orphanages. The records online begin in 1819 with lists of names of Almshouse children, and continue to the early 1900s with lists of names of children in orphanages.
Many of these institutions were founded in New York City to care for destitute children of immigrants from Ireland and Russia, Germany and other eastern European countries. Many immigrants found themselves unable to work and thus were unable feed their children. Women died during childbirth leaving a number of uncared for children. Many women also had illegitimate children that they could not provide for. Husbands died, living behind widows with large families. Some parents were addicted to alcohol or committed crimes and wound up in prison.
By 1850, New York state had 27 orphanages run by public and private funds but the problem of orphaned or abandoned children left behind roaming the streets begging for food was growing.
The Children's Aid Society, founded in 1854, shipped some of these children to homes in the South and West on Orphan Trains. Boys and girls were give a train ticket and sent to the mid-west.
Almshouses cared for impoverished adults and the elderly, and children often shared space with them. Dating back to the colonial era, New York City assumed responsibility for its citizens who were destitute, sick, homeless, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. In 1880, New York state passed a law that ended the practice of housing children in Almshouses with adults, unless they were born there.
To see the lists of orphans and half-orphans in Orphanages in New York state, visit http://www.rootsweb.com/~ote/orphans.htm