Tuesday, 14 October 2014

British Home Children in Our Family

In my blog post of 10 June 2014 I wrote about John Walker Cooper, my wife’s uncle, who was a Cossar boy, one of hundreds of children relocated to Canada from Scotland by Dr. George Carter Cossar. The immigrants sponsored by Dr. Cossar were part of a larger wave of children, called British Home children, sent to Canada for a better life.

The most well-known group were those brought over by Thomas John Barnardo. He founded a charity in London in 1866 set up to shelter and care for vulnerable children in London. It was initially established to take care of children left orphaned by the cholera outbreak in that region. His shelters expanded rapidly over the years as alternative housing to the Workhouse for destitute children. Over time it changed from not only housing orphans but also to providing fostering and adoption services.

The charity still exists today – almost 110 years after the death of Barnardo – still providing support, counselling, fostering, adoption, education, residential and training service for young people and their families.

Approximately 118,000 children were brought to Canada from the British Isles between 1863 and 1939, by over 50 child care organizations. They ranged in age from toddlers to adolescents, all unaccompanied by parents. Of the total, about 30,000 came from Barnardo homes in England.

One the Barnardo Boys was the grandfather of my brother-in-law, Henry John Pettitt. There have been many stories published about the harsh conditions and abuse the Home children were subject to in Canada. According to a Pettitt family historian, the experience of Henry was a positive one. He was grateful for the home life provided and for the education and care that he received as a young boy.

Henry was born in Limehouse, Stepney, Middlesex, England on December 10th, 1867, the son of Henry Frederick Pettitt, a carman, and Mary Ann, nee Minto. Henry Frederick died in 1868 of consumption. In 1870 his mother remarried but she too died within a couple of years, also of consumption. Henry’s stepfather was unable or unwilling to look after the child and he went to live with his maternal grandmother who was by then 60 years old. She did her best but, when her health failed, and no other relatives stepped forward to care for her grandson, she was forced to apply to the Barnardo home for assistance. He was then just nine years old.
 
1876 – photograph of Henry John Pettitt at the time of his admission to the Barnardo Home (from the Pettitt family files, courtesy of Pat Pettitt)
Henry is shown living in the Barnardo Home in Stepney Causeway, Ratcliffe, in 1881. He apparently also spent some time at the Youth’s Labour House on Commercial Road in London, which had been set up in 1882 to provide a home for young men who were candidates for emigration.
 
Photograph of the Barnardo Home at Stepney Causeway, London (image downloaded October 14, 2014 from barnardos.org.uk website)
Henry sailed to Canada on board the SS Polynesian on June 14th, 1883, with 82 other boys, arriving in Quebec on June 25th. He was placed at various homes in Russeldale and St. Mary’s, Ontario. By 1891 he was living at the Barnardo Home in Russell, Manitoba.
 
Photograph of the Russell Industrial Farmhouse in Russell, Manitoba (downloaded October 14, 2014 from British Home Children website)
Henry married Agnes Knott in Russell, Manitoba, in 1900. Agnes was an English girl who had arrived in Canada in 1898. The couple went on to raise a family of four in Russell, from all reports very happily and successfully.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

My Parents’ Wedding Anniversary

Last Wednesday, October 1st, 2014, would have been my parents’ 75th wedding anniversary if they had still been around. We sometimes get caught up in genealogy with thinking about family members who lived hundreds of years ago and often miss thinking about the particular events that happened much closer to our own existence.

I have been rebuilding our family albums in recent months and have been reminded of people and events that I remember or was told about. Photographs are great at bringing realism and life to stories and for showing us who the members of our family really were, not to mention what they looked like. One should dig out their old albums every once in a while to revisit family members that are now gone.

Wedding photos are particularly important and poignant as they document the actual point in time when a new family began. I have wedding photos in my collection that span five generations, from my children on back. The earliest was taken in 1890. They are all very valuable to me and hang together in a special place in our home. I have some pictures of individuals that go back further but not of couples. The one furthest back in my direct line was taken in 1875. Imagine – almost 140 years ago!

My parents did not live together to celebrate their 35th anniversary, my mother dying just two days prior to that date, at the age of 57. My father died less than a decade later, at the relatively young age of 68. I will go past that age this year.

Anyway, the photo of them together on their wedding day is something very special to me.


Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!


Some other photos from that important date:
A wedding shower held for the bride
The wedding party at the home of the bride’s parents where the marriage took place
The bride and groom with their parents
The wedding guests
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Value of Online Databases

For almost any subject in genealogical research involving online databases, particularly commercial websites, I have lately seen many comments about how people could not readily find their family members or the names were so screwed up as to be meaningless. These problems were then related back to some imaginary circumstance under which the website owners were really only interested in making money, not in helping people, and were just there to gouge consumers.

I, too, have found errors in indexes and transcriptions. But, as someone who has been involved in transcribing thousands of pages of old documents with tens of thousands of entries, I know how difficult it can be to decipher old style handwriting, poor penmanship, faded or torn originals and indifferent spelling – just to start with. I wonder if those complaining have ever volunteered to transcribe anything. If they had, I think they would be much less critical in their comments about the indexed results in many online collections or of the companies that make the information available to us right on our home computer.

Not so long ago, family historians had to travel across country to visit libraries and courthouses, write letters back and forth and/or spend countless hours in front of microfilm machines at the local Family History Centres, poring through hundreds pages of material, in search of just one name. When material started to appear online, there was no indexing. People had to scroll through sometimes hundreds of images to find their ancestors. But weren’t those pictures great to see!

We are very fortunate to be able to short-circuit the process now with so many online databases for which companies, along with thousands of volunteers have spent so much time and money accessing, copying and transcribing. Transcribers are not always right in their interpretations, but at least the indexed lists are a good starting point. And, if we cannot find a specific name in our initial searches, we can still scroll through the images. As James Tanner recently pointed out in his Genealogy’s Star post, How many genealogy online subscriptions are enough?, subscriptions to many databases can be quite expensive but they pale in relation to the costs of travel to almost any repository.

Of course, companies want to make money from their services. If they did not, they would not be in business and we would not have access to the millions of records and images we presently have. No government anywhere has the resources to put all of their historical information online without the help of private foundations and/or commercial entities.

Family researchers may not agree with all of the decisions taken by the commercial firms about what data they choose to collect or keep, or how they arrange it on their websites. They don’t have to. But they don’t have to put up their own money in support of profit-less enterprises or projects either.

Just try to build your own family tree now without the help of these businesses. You will be like my aunt was in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – having to write hundreds of letters and travel thousands of miles to visit dozens of centres, and maybe then not even find what you want.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.