…lamented Edwin Zepp, pictured above, in a letter he wrote to the Lutheran Children’s Home in 1945. A miner from West Virginia who had lived at the home in the early 1900s, Zepp needed a copy of his birth certificate so that he could claim Social Security benefits. Zepp’s letter was not unusual; many orphanage residents from the earliest years (1890-1920) began writing urgent letters in the 1940s and 50s asking for help in locating birth certificates or other vital information.
“Have you any record of me at the Home?” he wrote. T.C. Rohrbaugh, the Home’s superintendent responded a few days later, writing “…we regret very much that we have absolutely no record of you having been in this institution. We looked under different names thinking that perhaps we might be successful in finding some information on you but this proved unsuccessful.”
Remarkably, the story does not end with that discouraging letter. Zepp decided to piece together all the information he could find and search for missing clues. Through his prolonged and persistent efforts, he provided Rohrbaugh with a group photograph from 1904, with most of the children and staff members identified by name.
We don’t know whether Edwin Zepp was able to locate his birth certificate before his death in 1956, or if he ever received his benefits, but Zepp became a regular visitor and supporter of the Home. You can read a full transcription of his letter below.
I was an inmate of your institution from the year 1900 until the summer of 1905. My brother Leslie P. Zepp was there until he was 18. He left the Home a few years ahead of me. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cover of Winchester, Va. was my guardian. They paid 7 dollars per month for my brother and myself.
The Rev. Benj. W. Cronk was Superintendent when I came there. Prof. J.S. Crabtree was Superintendent when I left.
We miners pay into the Social Security but we are required to furnish a certificate of birth before we are eligible to benefits.
Because a man wears a pair of trousers does not prove he was ever born.
Have you any record of me at the Home? I was born at Capon Bridge, West Va., Horn Hollow County, November 5th, 1890. I am now 54 years old, the son of Edwin H. Zepp and Mrs. Rena Grim Zepp.
Thanking you for your kind attention. I am