Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Prague and Vienna Foundlings

Barbora Sallaba, foundling No. 204 from Prague, by the family of Franc Vopravil, blacksmith from Petrovice,
brought here on Dec 11, 1840. 7 months old.

You might have noticed such records in the death books. A small town or a village in the countryside, often in Southern Bohemia. Small children, just a few weeks or months old, not related to the family they died in. Record saying something like "nalezenec z Prahy" or "nalezenec z Vídně". Who were these children?

Nalezenec stands for a foundling. A child who was born in the maternity hospital, usually in Prague or in Vienna (Wien), to a unwed mother who wasn't able to take care for the child so she left him/her in the foundling house which was a part of the maternity hospital.

There were about 2500 of such children born in Prague maternity hospital of St. Apollinaire every year. Many of those children died just hours or days after the birth - death rate of illegitimate children was very high as care was limited and far from "proper". It reached 65 % in the middle of 19th century - which is really terrible number.

Children who were able to live through the first days of their lives, were then transported to the families who provided a foster care. These families often lived in the countryside, in small towns or villages quite far away from Prague or Vienna, and the transportation was quite risky for such small childen. Some of them died during the trip.

Children were supposed to stay with such families till they were 6 years old. Families were paid for the care and this payment was often the main reason to take children in the forster care. This also meant that not all children got proper care in the families - and many of those children died in childhood.

When the child was 6 years old it was usually moved to the orphanage. Just a few of the children were allowed to live with the foster family - the care was not paid after 6 years of age and the family had to take care for the child and pay for education and everything else. 

Life of the foundling was not easy. If they lived through the first years they then lived a life full of hard work and disregard from the people. Girls often had illegitimate children, both girls and boys did the worst jobs. They were often beggars and died quite young because of common diseases.


  1. Thank you for sharing! I have looked through volumes of the Vienna foundlings hospitals. Do you know which village(s) foundlings were often sent to in the Czech Rep? Were they normally sent to families who volunteered to be foster homes?

  2. I am seeing them in the small villages near Tabor (Malsice and Skrychov), listed with families on the 1880 census.

  3. Hello i found out that my greta grandmother was a foundling born in 1883 in maternal hospital Praha . She emigrated to Holland. I would like to locate her record but cannot find anything in National czech archives where she is said to be. Does anyone know under what topic in that archive i could find her ? most is in czech i dont really understand all the files ! regards, Anne from amsterdam