After several weeks of not being able to find my grandfather in the 1911 census, I started to wonder about the theory my cousin's husband had. Could my grandfather really have been sent to Canada? I searched for my grandfather in passenger records from England to Canada. My cousin's husband had mentioned a record he found and I took a look at it. Charles Brown, passenger with the Waifs and Strays Society, en route to Canada in 1912. The boy in this record was the right age to be my grandfather, but Charles Brown is a VERY common name. I went to the Canadian Archives website and found the record for this child in their "Home Children" database. I was starting to have a nagging feeling I wasn't going to like the way this turned out.
At this point, I did a dangerous thing and I googled "Waifs and Strays." What I found was not an organization that sent children to Canada to give them a better life. What I found was article after article, web page after web page, story after story that described horrible experiences. Children snatched from their families because a neighbor or the Pastor deemed the parents "unfit." Children given to the Society by parents because they were told the Society would take care of their children and then return them. Children deemed "orphans" because one of their parents had died. Children sold into indentured slavery, never to see their families again. Names changed, birth dates changed, illegally given up for adoption, some so young they never remembered the truth. They were called by numbers, not by their names, they were beaten for wetting the bed (a common symptom of childhood trauma), they were told their parents had abandoned them or were dead. The more I read, the more my heart sank. I had never heard of British Home Children or the Church of England Waifs and Strays and a part of me wished I had kept it that way. If you've never heard of them, look it up. It's disturbing, but for any of us with roots in England, we need to make sure we know the true story of our ancestors. I could go on for days about the research I've done, but it's off topic and not productive.
In all of my googling, I cam across a website managed by Lori Oschefski and the British Home Child Research and Advocacy group. She has compiled a wealth of information on all the groups that sent children overseas (not just to Canada). The passenger record my cousin's husband found, as well as the record on the Canadian Archives, stated the boys were headed for Sherbrooke, Quebec. Sherbrooke just happens to be the city my grandfather enlisted in the army from. I looked up a "receiving home" in Sherbrooke, the Gibbs' Home. On Lori's website is a chronological and alphabetical list of the boys that came through the Gibbs' Home. I scrolled through the first couple of pages of the alphabetical list with a knot in my stomach. Would I find him? I certainly wanted to answer the question of where he had gone by 1911, but I certainly didn't want this to be the answer. On page seven I found it. There was the arrival date from the archives, followed by "Brown, Charles E F," followed by 2/10/1898. It was him. I felt sick. I felt relieved that I had found him, but I felt breathless thinking about his fate.
I e-mailed Lori and asked her to check her database for my grandfather. He was there. She pointed me to the Children's Society (formerly the Waifs and Strays) to submit an inquiry about how to receive my grandfather's file. They stated they did have my grandfather's file, as well as his brother's (more heart ache). They stated if we could prove relationship, we could have a summary of my grandfather's file, as well as information on his brother. This process can take up to SIX MONTHS. Apparently, they are swamped with requests for files. It is my belief that this is due to the increasing knowledge of British Home Children in the UK and Canada, especially following a public apology made by Britain's Prime Minister.
She also pointed me to the British Home Child Registry. The goal of this registry is to eventually have all British Home Children "claimed" by their descendants. On the registry, I was able to enter all the information I know about my grandfather. His birth, his death, his parents, his siblings, his service in World War I, his wife, his children. The best part of the registry is that I was able to check a little box that read "I am claiming this Home Child." As I typed "granddaughter" into the "relation to this Home Child" box, I got very emotional. This journey started as a quest to give my dad a gift and help him complete his identity. I was now also on a quest to complete my grandfather's identity and it was overwhelming.
So I now had information that half of my great-grandparents' children were sent away. Sent away, perhaps for the same reasons that my father was taken from his mother. Two generations sent to places with dormitories full of beds and dining rooms full of children ripped from their families. As driven as I already was to trace our family history (ok, obsessed with it), it has now taken on a whole new meaning. I will not like some of the answers I find. I will be sad. I will feel sick over some of the things I read. But I will have answers. My father will have answers. They will have family. They will have identities. They will be ours and we will be theirs.