All my Father wanted was to know who he was, who his parents were, and if he had any brothers or sisters. After he died, all I wanted to know was who my Grandparents were and if I had any Uncles or Aunts in England. Why should that be so hard to find out?
When I began my search, I was quite prepared to assume the best of intentions regarding the child care organizations. My attitude at the time was to regard the British Child Emigration Scheme in a historical context and to assume that everyone “did the best the could with what they knew at the time.”
I began my search for my father’s family in 1993 with very little information with which to work. I floundered about a year and was frustrated that so few people even knew what was a “Home Child.” It took a year and five persistent requests to wrench information from the Waifs and Strays (now the Children’s Society). I was not satisfied with their few summary paragraphs of my father’s time in their care. I wanted photocopies of his entire file. I was shocked when I finally got a photocopy of their Intake Form.
All of the answers to my father’s lifetime questions were on these pages. Why did they not tell him the truth about himself and give him the information he needed to identify and find his family?
From this intake form, I discovered that my Father had a brother! They never told my father this. This piece of information - along with the help of a remarkable “Kind Stranger” in England - allowed me to solve the mysteries of my father’s origins. I and my newfound friend identified my Father’s four siblings, six nephews, and nieces. My father’s case file provided evidence that the Children’s Society withheld information from my father and me and gave him false information. The truth lay in his file for over 80 years before I discovered it. Ten years after his search began, I finally met my 86 year old sole surviving aunt. How sad that my Father and his six siblings never knew of each other. If the Children’s Society had only given him the information he was entitled to, I am certain my Father would have found his family.
My experience with Barnardo’s was equally frustrating. I waited 3 years for them to release information from my uncle and aunts’ files.
Violet (12), Gladys (8) and Reginald Snow (6) were taken into care in 1926. Again I was dismayed to learn how my Grandmother tried to visit her children, send them presents, and have them moved closer to her so she could visit them. My aunt and uncles never knew of her attempts to contact them. These records from the 1930’s indicated that the policy of permanent severance of family ties persisted.
Gladys Snow (8), Reginald Snow (6), Violet Snow (12)
Admitted to Barnardo’s 1926.
Each sent to different foster homes/Girls Homes.
They found each other in the 1940’s years later, but never found their mother or father.
Reg died in 1984 at age 64 and Violet died in 1998 at age 84 not knowing they had an older brother – my Father. Violet is alive, and when I met her in 2003, that is when she learned she had an older brother – my Father.
A second generation of Snows in England were taken into care.
In 1942, Violet’s children Violet (3) and James (infant) were taken into care.
They found each other in the 1950’s and eventually located their mother in the 1960’s.
They knew of their uncles and aunts, and had met them, but never had any real relationship with them.
As a result of my frustrating search, I concluded that the scheme had a very dark side and an unspoken motive of deliberate and irrevocable severance of family relationships. The British Child Emigration Scheme to Canada was not about “providing children with a better life in Canada.” Children’s experiences while indentured in Canada varied widely – many were treated kindly but estimates are that 2/3 of them suffered abuse/neglect. The most common experience they shared was being unsuccessful in finding their families once ‘in care.’ Why are first, second, and third generation British Home Children descendants still having difficulty obtaining records from the sending agencies?
My search led to
- publishing Neither Waif Nor Stray: The Search for a Stolen Identity (2000)
- creating the British Home Children Mail List (2000-2006)
- designing a resource website (2000 - Present)
- forming the non-profit British Home Children Society (2006 - 2007)
- dissolving the non-profit British Home Children Society (2007)
- developing the British Home Children Registry (2000 - Present) to help other BHC Descendants with their searches.
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