British immigrant children from Dr. Barnardo’s Homes at landing stage, Saint John, New Brunswick.Have you had young ancestors from a poor background who seem to have simply disappeared? Have you looked for their deaths and burials and not found anything? If these children vanished from your family tree during the 19th century then they may have been part of a scheme to send orphaned, abandoned and destitute children to Canada. Sending children to the British Colonies started as early as 1618 when one hundred children were sent to the Virginia Colony to help alleviate a labour shortage.
In this post I will write about the various schemes which saw the first group of children sent out to Toronto and New Brunswick by The Children’s Friend Society in 1833. In total over 50 different organisations sent children to Canada between 1833 and 1948. In 1874 the London Board of Governors, after hearing rumours of abuse, sent out Andrew Doyle to visit the children and investigate their situation. Mr Doyle wrote a damning report with the outcome that the Canadian Government set up a select committee and changes were made to the schemes. Canadian officials began to check on the children’s welfare and step in if children were being mistreated. See my note on the Juvenile Inspection Reports in the record section below.
The majority of children on arrival in Canada were indentured as farm worker or domestic servants. Many children were told that their parents had died and that they were orphans, but it is thought that as little as 2% were in fact parent less. As can be imagined there was plenty of scope for the abuse of the children, some organisation did little to keep in touch and check up on their well being, whilst some children thrived and were well cared for a significant number were not.
It was not until the 1990’s that the Canadian Government spoke about the schemes and the abuse that the children suffered. 2010 was designated the “Year of the British Home Child” and a postage stamp was issued in recognition of the children.
Canada Bound – British Home Children – The Records
There are a number of websites that have excellent information online about the history of the Home Children and offer searchable databases of the children concerned.
British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association
The British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association was first established by Perry Snow in memory of his father, Frederick George Snow, who was a Home Child and who had compiled a database of over 58,000 name of British Home Children. This website is, in my view, the best site to gain a complete overview of the schemes, plight of the children and subsequent events. There is an ever growing database of names, at the time of this post surnames AA to GRO are online with names being added regularly.
The database gives the following information where it is known.
- Name including adopted name if original name changed
- Where and when born
- Where and when died and buried
- Spouse and where and when married
- Emigration Scheme
- Where and with whom placed in Canada
- Census entries
- Parents names and details
I highly recommend this site as a first port of call if you are researching a British Home Child. If you have further information about a Home Child then the BHCARA would be very pleased to hear from you.
British Home Children in Canada
British Home Children in Canada is a website run by Lori Oschefski who is also connected with The British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association. Some links on this site take you through to the BHCARA website. Both sites are full of background information about the children and are well worth the time spent working through. There are no records online on this site, but it is still worth a look.
Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada are the government repository for any government records regarding the Home Children. There is a short history followed by a list of online databases, digitised passenger lists and published sources.
On the left you can see the record for my ancestral cousin Ada Southwell. This record led me to a shipping list, Canadian census and her marriage, children’s births and her burial. I also was able to make contact with a fellow researcher who is a descendant of Ada.
There are also online guides on the subject. An interesting and helpful set of documents are the Juvenile Inspection Reports. These reports were written by the immigration officers who carried out inspections of the children after the report of 1874. These records are online at the Heritage Canada website, but only date from 1920 – 1932. Towards the bottom of the front page of the Library and Archives Canada website is a list of external websites and also links to a podcast and social media.
Canada Bound – British Home Children – Summary
Family history isn’t always a comfortable past-time it can bring to the forefront memories and records that make for emotional reading. I know when I read that my ancestors Henry, Alfred, Ada and Elizabeth were sent out to Canada as children and were split up into different families my heart bled for them. The outcome for them was mainly a happy one, but for many of the children it was not. However I do believe that it is important to record the good and the bad in our genealogies after all the bad times teach us lessons that the good times can not. The databases noted here have been created by a wonderful group of people who have made sure that these children have not disappeared completely from their family trees, they can now be found again.
Canada Bound – British Home Children – Dedication
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of my ancestors Henry Southwell 1871 – 1966, Alfred Southwell 1872 – , Ada Southwell 1875 – 1953 and Elizabeth Mary Southwell 1879 – . All were British Home Children and were taken to Canada by the Barnados and McPherson organisations.
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