Find your ancestors in Canada, Home Children Board of Guardian Records

What can these records tell me?

These records are in the form of registers and document children sent to Canada from English workhouses. Specifically, entries include:

  • Name of the child
  • Age
  • Where taken into care, in England, in the form of a Union
  • Which sending agency or charitable organization arranged their transportation and subsequent placement in Canada
  • The year they were transported
  • Notes, which vary

The images also include dates of re-inspections, which often correlate to the Juvenile Inspection Cards, which allow the researcher to document, in many cases, several years’ worth of the individuals experience.

About the Home Children

“Home Children” is a term used to identify and designate the thousands of children sent to Commonwealth countries from the middle of the 1800s until after the Second World War. This same population is often referred to as “Britain’s Child Migrants,” as well. More than 130,000 children, ranging from the very young (two to three years old) to eighteen were sent as forced migrants. Only 12% of them were true orphans in modern terms and estimates indicate there are over 4 million descendants of these children around the world today.

Some were kindly adopted into families and lived out a happy childhood, but not all were that lucky. The reality for many was a life of hard labor and servitude at foster homes, many of whom moved often through remote farms and state-run facilities. Nearly always separated from siblings and potentially subject to abuse. Findmypast believes that every story matters, and so while these migration schemes are often sensitive areas of our shared history, their stories are important to tell.

Through the Victorian period and well after WWII, there were many children and families living in extreme poverty. Migration schemes, generally created by charity groups, were one of the answers to dealing with this population. Charities, and then Poor Law Unions, began to send children to Canada in the late 1860s. These schemes only grew through the period and by the turn of the century, a new reason had been created, one which was supported directly by the government: imperialism. “An imperial vision of Dominions prospering under young settlers of good British stock complemented the moral benefits of child migration.” (Kershaw, Roger and Sacks, Janet, New Lives for Old, The Story of Britain’s Child Migrants, p. 8, published by The National Archives.) After the Great War, the focus shifted from Canada to Australia. Attempts at government regulation and oversight did not really start until the 1920s. The practice of child migration can be seen in the Empire Settlement Acts of 1922, 1937, 1952 and 1957.

The children, commonly referred to as “Waif’s and Strays,” or “Barnardo Boys” in the UK were often mistreated and they grew into their adult years ashamed of their background. Most did not openly share their experiences with future generations. Additionally, there is a distinction between Home Children and those sent as evacuees, especially during the Second World War. The British Home Children were sent away permanently, and to work. Evacuees were sent away for safety and then returned to their families.

The juvenile inspection cards were created by immigration officials conducting inspections after the child was placed in a Canadian home. The inspectors could be departmental representatives or individuals designated by them, such as local ministers. The cards are arranged in alphabetical order on the microfilm, by child's surname and approximately 5% of the total have a second image, writing on the back of the card. Most range from 1920-1932, with a few as early as 1913. You can expect each child to have more than one inspection, especially those who were struggling to adapt.

These inspections, and the reports that accompanied them, were often used as propaganda, and thus, researchers today should use caution when analysing them. Inaccurate statements were common, especially in situations of abuse or mistreatment. The children themselves were commonly not present during the actual inspection, the government representative speaking solely to the master or mistress of the home. (Historical context contributed to by Lori Oschefski, Home Children Canada.)

These cards do note a sending agency. It is good practice to understand the organisation that had the most impact on the individual in question. The most common organisations found in this collection are:

  • Barnardo or Barnardo’s
  • Middlemore
  • Quarrier’s
  • C of E: Church of England
  • SA: Salvation Army
  • CEA: Catholic Emigration Association
  • BICA: British Immigration and Colonisation Association
  • Armenian Relief Association of Canada*
  • Canadian Jewish War Orphans Committee*

*These two organisations are not actually affiliated with British Home Children, meaning they were not born in the United Kingdom or Ireland, but are more likely to be children emigrated to Canada as a result of European conflict resulting in their orphanhood. They were included in the inspection process in Canada.

Research process

There are a number of record sources that will need to be brough together to tell the story of just one child, and all of them are useful. Findmypast is publishing more records of this nature to offer a centralised repository, allowing descendants today an easier path to identifying their Home Child ancestor and where they came from. The following collections should be utilised, many of which are free to access:

  • UK Census collection
  • Passenger Lists
  • Canadian Census collection
  • Newspapers
  • Contextual materials, such as government correspondence
  • Military Records, especially those from The Great War