Researching children’s homes #foundlings #orphans

Lost children weren’t always adopted, as happens to Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity. If she had been born a century earlier, she may have been taken to one of many children’s homes in London. In 1739 London’s Foundling Hospital opened, a basket placed at its door to allow infants to be left anonymously. In the late 19thcentury poverty in London’s East End was notorious and this is where, in 1866, Thomas Barnardo established his first boys’ home. Lampson House Home for Girls [below] opened in London in 1894. If you are tracing a relative who was in a children’s home, the records may be held in a variety of places.

Lampson House

Lampson House Home for Girls, London 1894 [photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

Most children’s homes were privately run so the survival of documentation is inconsistent, records identifying individuals are widely held closed for 100 years. A useful website is The Children’s Homes which lists the location of existing records for many former homes. Other records which give an insight into lifestyle conditions [below] in children’s homes – such as reports of inspections, dietary diaries – can be found at the National Archives.

Records for workhouses can be found in the appropriate county/metropolitan record office where you may also find records for workhouses taken over by the local council, and for later council-run homes dating up until the 1980s.

If your relative disappears from the records, it is possible that the child was moved on. An institution only had so many places, so in order to accommodate new arrivals some of the existing inmates were boarded out/fostered or have emigrated. If the child was older, it is possible he/she trained for an occupation. Below are girls in the sewing room of a children’s home, in 1900.

Sewing room, children's home 1900

Sewing room 1900 [photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

This post was inspired by the article ’Focus on Children’s Homes’ in the February 2016 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.

For more articles about researching family records, try:-
How #adoption became a legal process #UK
The #paternity question
Commonwealth War #Graves Commission 

family history

 

When Rose Haldane starts to research the story of her own adoption in Ignoring Gravity, the private nature of her adoption means available records are minimal, so she applies to see a counsellor. First in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. BUY THE BOOK

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True #adoption story… George Dennehy #adoptionstories

When baby George was born without arms, his family in Romania could not cope. They took him to an orphanage where he was given little chance of survival. Twenty five years ago, a doctor attached a death certificate to his crib, part-completed, with the exact date and time of passing not filled in. But baby George lived on. And then a family from America arrived, wanting to adopt him.

George Dennehy

George Dennehy now

George, now 25 and a youth pastor, father and musician, does not remember his time at the orphanage. “I was neglected and abandoned,” he says. “Not taken care of. Not given good treatment or love or nutrition or anything like that.”

George Dennehy

George Dennehy as a baby

Musically gifted, George learned to play musical instruments with his feet. Now a cello player, he is the only known person in the world to play a classical stringed instrument with his toes. He tours the USA sharing his original music and is an advocate for the child sponsorship programme run by Holt International, where a sponsorship plan of monthly gifts can enable a child like George to stay with their birth family.

George Dennehy

George Dennehy with his son Landon

Listen to George sing Not Abandoned and here, playing with the Goo Goo Dolls.
Read more about Holt International’s child sponsorship programme.

If you like this true story, read:-
Jenna Cook
Jazz Boorman 
Laurence Peat

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#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Sandy Day

Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would explain Fred’s illness and set the record straight with his family. But it didn’t come. The story is told in linear fashion; the anecdotes of Viola and the remaining family are interchanged with Fred’s reaction to these stories plus a few flashbacks to the war. Clearer signposting of these sections would make reading easier.

Day clearly captures the time and place of post-Great War Canada, a subject which is new to me. However I found the repeated digressions into the extended family history and details of the lifestyle a distraction from the main story [so many cousins, great-great grandparents and houses]. I so wanted to cut some of these unrelated sections to allow a stronger novel to push its way to the surface; simpler, more powerful. The inclusion of so many family details makes me wonder if the core of Fred’s Funeral is a memoir, inspired by a real family, from which the author feels unable to cut some relations and take the leap into pure fiction.

The portrayal of Fred’s experience at Whitby Hospital for the Insane is heart breaking, as is the disinterest of his family. For them, Fred is an embarrassment. It is a sad indictment of our treatment of soldiers returning from war and our ignorance that the effect of fighting can last a lifetime. It is easy to assume that in the 21stcentury this has changed, but the modern day strand of Day’s story suggests it hasn’t. It is as if Fred’s life has paused. “He banished feeling anything long ago. He feels timid. He feels tentative, like every step he takes is on a thick layer of ice and at any moment, he might crash through into a frenzy of drowning.”

At the end of the novel, there is no ‘reveal’, no surprise, and I felt a little let down. Overall, this is a thoughtful examination of how family tensions, petty jealousies and misunderstandings can spread down the generations. Gossip and guesses are transformed into ‘truth’.

Day also writes poetry and this shows in her neat turn of phrase. For example, cousin Gertrude puts on her eyeglasses which “magnify her grey eyes like two tadpoles in a jar”.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
Blood-Tied’ by Wendy Percival 

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True #adoption story… a letter to Sarah, the mother of my adopted son #adoptionstories

Four years after adopting, the father of an adopted baby puts pen to paper and writes to his son’s birth mother. The original letter appeared in The Guardian. It is an emotional read, partly because you quickly realise the birth mother has died. And, as you read on, you realise the two adoptive parents are men. “In fact, you will always be his only mother – as we are both men. And I cannot help but wonder how you would feel about the fact that David has two Daddies and I hope that you would be accepting of that.”

[photo: Maria Lindsey Media Creator/Pexels]

The letter writer and his partner read the file of a baby boy on a September morning. It was a difficult story to read, “Yours was a story so far removed from our own that it took every ounce of imagination to understand what you must have gone through.” And then came the phone call to say the baby’s mother Sarah had died.

“Suddenly, we knew what we had to do. There was never any doubt. All I remember was an overwhelming desire to protect this little boy, to give him the love and care he deserved. And really that was that; as far as we were concerned, David was now our son. There were further meetings, questions, paperwork, panels, decisions, arrangements and preparations. Then, two months later, we met him for the first time. I hope the fact that I call him ‘our son’ does not offend you. Sarah, you will always be his birth mother. But I make no apology in referring to him as our son.”

The relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents can be an awkward one, but for these two fathers the challenge is different. It does seem strange writing to someone I have never met, but part of me feels that I know you so very, very well.”

Read the full letter to Sarah at The Guardian.

If you like this true story, read:-
Philip Sais
Annie from New York 
Amy Seek

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#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Bloodline’ by @FionaMountain

This is a combination of genealogical mystery, murder investigation and historical examination of the Nazis. Bloodline by Fiona Mountain, the second Natasha Blake mystery, covers a lot of ground from its seemingly innocuous starting point when Natasha hands in her report to a client. But nothing is mentioned lightly in this book, everything has a meaning. Natasha is not sure why Charles Seagrove requested this particular family tree, but knows he is unrelated to any of the people featured. Fiona Mountain

The real reason for Seagrove’s interest in genealogy is at the heart of this storyline. There are many dead ends and I admit to losing track of who was who at one point but Mountain ties all the loose endings together so there is clarity at the end. At first, Natasha is simply conducting another genealogical research but everything changes when she receives an anonymous note, ‘Cinderella is in the bluebell woods at Poacher’s Dell’. Once her client is murdered with his own shotgun, Natasha feels threatened as well as puzzled.

There are many storylines to be connected including Charles Seagrove’s grand-daughter Rosa and her father Richard, Second World War land girls, and two soldiers – one German, one English – who meet in the trenches during the Christmas truce of 1914. This is a lot to handle but Mountain manages the complicated history with ease and I enjoyed trying to work out the solution.
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Read my review of Pale as the Dead, the first Natasha Blake book.

If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley 

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How #adoption became a legal process #UK

Only in 1926 did adoption of children in England and Wales become a legal process, it was part of a process to remove illegitimate children from their ‘unfit’ mothers and place them with a respectable married couple. Until the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, adoptions were often arranged privately or via the mother-and baby-home where the birth took place.

Falloden Nursing Home

The Falloden Nursing Home [photo: motherandbabyhomes.com]

In the 19th century there were hundreds of mother-and-baby homes where an unmarried pregnant woman would be housed and her pregnancy and birth overseen. She would remain with her baby during the early weeks while an adoption was arranged. Many women attended these homes secretly to avoid the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child. As an alternative to adoption, some single mothers left their child in the care of baby farmers who would care for the child for a fee, supposedly enabling the mother to return to work. However some baby farmers were found guilty of abuse and neglect.

Prior to the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, ten bills had been introduced to Parliament by 1922 in an effort to regulate adoption. Finally the act became law on January 1, 1927. It provided assurance for the adoptive parents that the birth parents could not demand their child be returned. The court making the adoption order had to make sure that the birth parents understood the implications of what they were doing. The Act also cut out the practice of baby farming, as the exchange of money for an adoption was illegal unless sanctioned by the court. At this time the Adopted Children Register was established. This can be consulted at The General Register Office.

For more information about mother-and-baby homes, check these two websites: Mother and Baby Homes, and Children’s Homes.

The Adoption Act of 1976 was another piece of legislation affecting the adoption process. Prior to this it had been assumed that adoption was final and there would be no reunion between the respective parties. The Act altered this and gave individuals adopted after 11 November, 1975 the right to access their birth records after reaching the age of eighteen. Those adopted before that date could also seek their birth records provided that they saw a counsellor beforehand.

Adoption was finally legalised in Scotland in 1930 with The Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930. Advice on tracing Scottish adoption records can be found on the National Archives of Scotland website and Northern Ireland records are kept at the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI).

This post is inspired by an article in the January 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

For more articles about researching family records, try:-
The #paternity question
Films bring history to life
Check your local records

Sandra Danby

 

When Rose Haldane starts to research the story of her own adoption in Ignoring Gravity, the private nature of her adoption means available records are minimal, so she applies to see a counsellor. First in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. BUY

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A fictional #orphan… Jane Eyre #adoptionstories

Is there a more iconic novel than Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte? Beloved by generations of teenage girls who identify with the eponymous Jane, her suffering, her fortitude and generosity, Jane’s parents died of typhus several years before the story begins. Jane’s story is told in the first person making this a powerful, personal account of an orphan’s life.

Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Orson Welles & Joan Fontaine in Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

The 1970 television film featuring Susannah York and George C Scott

The story
When the novel starts, Jane is 10 and living with her maternal uncle’s family but her uncle has since died. He was the only member of the Reed family who was kind to Jane. Emotionally and physically mistreated by her relatives, Jane’s only comfort is a doll and some books.
She is sent to Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls. Life is harsh here, but she finds friends and role models. Jane makes a friend, Helen Burns, but during an outbreak of tuberculosis, Helen dies. Conditions at the school improve when local benefactors fund a new building and a more sympathetic management style is introduced.
On leaving Lowood, Jane secures a position as governess at Thornfield Hall to the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. Here, the normally self-controlled Jane falls in love with her employer. But Rochester’s complicated love life make this difficult.
Unable to live with Mr Rochester without being married, Jane leaves Thornfield Hall. Exhausted and starving after horrendous journey during which she loses her possessions and must sleep rough, she arrives at Moor House, the home of her cousins, clergyman St John Rivers and his sisters Diana and Mary. When St John proposes they marry and travel to India as missionaries, Jane declines. And then she hears to mystical voice of Mr Rochester calling her.
She returns to Thornfield Hall and finds the house in ruins, Mr Rochester is now disabled. They finally are free to marry.
The book was published in 1847.
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Jane EyreThe film
Depending on your age, you will be familiar with at least one film or television adaptation of Bronte’s book. The first was made in 1910 , a silent movie [below] produced by the Thanhouser Company and starring Marie Eline as Jane and Frank H Crane as Mr Rochester. Unfortunately the reel of this is presumed lost.

Jane Eyre

The 1910 Jane Eyre silent, BW film by the Thanhouser Film Corp

The most recent adaptation in 2011 starred Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. Watch the trailer.
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Jane EyreFamous Janes
Joan Fontaine 1943
Ingrid Bergman 1948
Susannah York 1970
Sorcha Cusack 1973
Charlotte Gainsbourg 1996
Samantha Morton 1997
Ruth Wilson 2006
Mia Wasikowska 2011 [above]

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