Category Archives: home children

Letters to a Home Child.

I attended the Old Book and Paper Show at Wychwood Barns on Sunday after church. I’d seen ads for it previous years and this year I decided to make an effort to attend.

I’m something of a paper hoarder as I like to craft with interesting papers. I’m also always on the lookout for historical info about my family’s past to add to my genealogical writings and research. So I paid my admission ($8) and spent a very happy couple of hours sifting through all kinds of wonderful stuff.

You need a lot of patience at these shows. I wisely brought along a small purse with a shoulder strap so I’d have both hands free. Along with a lot of old books and prints there were boxes of postcards, some organized and some not, magazines, pulp fiction, newspapers, and all kinds of ephemera from old business cards, cigar labels, advertising, year books, and every kind of business paper you can imagine.

I came away with a couple of interesting items, plus a duplicate of something I already had (but in better condition.) In particular, I found one and a half letters from the Canadian branch of Dr. Barnardo’s Homes (the half letter being only the first page.) I will connect with the various organizations dealing with Home Children and supply them with scanned copies of these documents, which I reproduce below:

First page of a letter to Violet Bancroft (nee Turner) from Dr. Barnardo's Homes. 1916
First page of a letter to Violet Bancroft (nee Turner) from Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. 1916
Letter to Violet Bancroft (nee Turner) from Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. 1933

If I understand the letters correctly, it would appear that Violet Turner was herself a home child and, in the first letter, contacted Barnardo’s to enquire about her family history. She is referred to as Violet Bancroft in the first letter (her adopted family’s name? her married name?) and as Mrs. Jones in the second letter (presumably a married name, as she refers to her husband’s lack of employment.

I will do some research to see if I can find out more about this woman.

Breaking through genealogical walls: my great-grandfather Walter Gear.

I’ve had very little sleep the past couple of nights. Idly searching through ancestry.ca, I came upon some information that may have broken through a genealogical brick wall in an unexpected way, and it’s been keepig me at the computer until the wee hours of the morning.

My grandfather, Walter Gear, was a British Home Child. He emigrated to Canada with a group of children under the auspices of Miss Annie McPherson. He left Liverpool on September 7, 1871 at age 14 and sailed on the SS Prussian (Source.)  They arrived in Quebec City on the 17th of September and were taken by train to Belleville where there was a distribution home for such children. I knew nothing about his time over the next 16 years but in May 2011, I requested his file from Barnardo’s in England and there is a 6-8 month waiting period to receive any records they have about his birth family and the reasons why he was sent to Canada. 

Skipping forward in time:

There is also an arrival for a W Gear in 1887.  The passenger list for the SS Lake Ontario, leaving Bristol, England on October 6, 1887 and arriving in Quebec on Oct 17th shows a group of nine men, identified as Cattlemen. This leads me to believe that Walter may have returned to England at some point and then come back to Canada, although I have not been able to find his name on a passenger list corresponding to his return trip.

On the 12th of October 1899, Walter marries my grandmother Janet Forbes Morren (Source: Calgary Tribune). He and Janet have three children in Calgary: William (1900, my grandfather), Barbara (1903), and Mary (1905). On William’s birth certificate, Walter’s occupation is listed as “Drayman”, which would seem to accord with the occupation of cattleman on the 1887 passenger list. 

In the 1911 Census of Canada, Walter is living in Calgary at a lumber yard, working as a foreman in a stable. He has a roomer, George Dunkby. He is working 70 hours per week and earned $720 the previous year.Janet and the children are not living with him.That is tale for another post.

I had wondered about the years between his first trip over as a Home Child at age 14, and his second as a cattleman at age 30. It is my understanding that the Home Children would have been in service until age 18 or so, which suggests that there was a period of a dozen years when he would have been on his own.

Which brings me to my discovery. 

I found a marriage listed for a Walter Gear to an Elizabeth Miller in Sophiasburgh (now Picton, Ontario) on February 28, 1878. The registration lists Walter as 24 and Miss MIller as 18. 

Walter_gear_-_miller_marriage

Further searches yielded a birth (and death) certificate for a still born female child two years later in April 1880 and a daughter Lewella (later known as Ella) born in 1884. I am unable to locate either Walter or Elizabeth (now called Louisa) in the 1891 census, but in 1901, Louisa and Ella are living with Louisa’s mother Margaret, now widowed, and her brother Lewis MIller, a farmer, in Picton. Louisa is listed as married, but there is no husband in the household.

So the timeline looks like this:

1857 – Walter Gear born in England

1871 – Walter arrives in Ontario with group of home children (age 14)

1878 – Walter marries Elizabeth (age 24, per marriage cert)

1880, 1884 – Daughters born.  Only second one (Lewella) survives

18?? – Walter returns to England. His sister Alice gets married in 1886. Is it possible that he returned for that?

1887 – Walter returns to Canada as a cattleman, destined for Calgary.

1899 – Walter marrries Janet Morren, my grandmother, and has three children with her in Calgary.

1901 – Eliabeth is living with her mother, brother, and daughter in Picton, Ontario.

1911 – Walter living alone in Calgary, working as a teamster.

There is more. The certicate of Walter’s first marriage lists his parenta as Edward and Sarah Gear, in England.  I was able to track down his birth record in East Grinstead, Sussex and find out about his birth family.  But I’ll leave the details for another post.  Like many home children, the family appears to have been quite destitute. When Walter left at age 14, he was the oldest of 5 children.  His father died in 1867 when Walter was 10, and so choosing to come to Canada might have been the only way out for him. In 1871, the year Walter leaves, the family is living with their uncle Thomas Gear who is a carter. In 1881, his mother is working as a pew opener in a mission church. 

Walter travels back and forth between Canada and England a couple more times in the early 20th century and dies in Hamilton, Ontario in 1922.

The information that I’ve collected is somewhat circumstantial.  Could there be two different Walter Gear’s with the same approximate birth year who both emigrated to Canada? I have some research trips planned to the public library and Ontario Archives to try to dig up some more. 

British Home Child Day Act – Today at Queen’s Park

This Act is being re-introduced at Queen’s Park today.  If you are a descendent of a British Home Child and are in the city, drop by the Legislature today (and then to the Duke of York for a reception.)

Good news to all British Home Child descendants and friends!

After two attempts to bring a British Home Child Day Act to fruition in the Legislature of Ontario, I am making one last attempt to accomplish this, before my retirement as the Member of Provincial Parliament for the Riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry. 

With 2010 having been the national “Year of the Home Children”, I had hoped that my Private Members’ Bill would have been passed before the end of last year. Unfortunately, the official opposition would not cause this to happen, so I’m following another route in order to have an official day for recognition of the British Home Children in Ontario, September 28th.

On Thursday, May 19th, through the kindness of MPP Monte Kwinter, I will have a chance to re-introduce my British Home Child Day bill, and to have it passed through Second and Third Readings. MPP Kwinter gave up his 15th spot in Private Members’ business, so that I could re-introduce my bill.

As you may know, my previous bills have either died or stalled in the Justice Committee. This time, I will have the bill co-sponsored, with PC MPP Steve Clark and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo agreeing to be co-sponsors. I’ll be moving Second and Third Reading on that day, and then it will require Royal Assent, a formality from the Lieutenant-Governor’s office. The bill will not be referred to the Justice Committee.

Having said the above, I would be honoured to have you as my guest in the Ontario Legislature on Thursday, May 19th. Mine will be the third bill debated on that afternoon, with the first debate beginning around 1:20 pm. The debate for each bill last for about 50 minutes. 

Following the debate, I would like to invite you to the Duke of York, 39 Prince Arthur Avenue, Toronto, for a toast to our Home Child ancestors. 

I would be honoured to welcome you to the Legislature, and I thank all who have supported me in the past. I look forward to the day that we will have an official day in Ontario to recognize our Home Child ancestors who contributed so much to the development of our province, with little or no recognition. This is our opportunity to honour and celebrate their legacy!

Christine Shaver, my Legislative Assistant is taking the lead on this project, and she may be reached at cshaver@liberal.ola.org. In the riding, I have asked my new Constituency Assistant, Alex de Wit to assist with my latest quest. His email is adewit@liberal.ola.org.

Kindest regards,

Jim Brownell, MPP
Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry

Exciting Connections: Conference Update!

The OGS Conference this past weekend was a whirlwind of sessions, volunteering, and coffee-drinking.  It was held at a hotel out near the airport, so I was commuting 20-40 mintues each day, depending on traffic, and Friday and Saturday mornings I started at 7 am (working the sign-in desk) so I had some very long days.

But the good news is that the sessions were terrific, I got some great ideas for proceeding with my work, and made some interesting connections with people.  Case in point:  both mornings I worked with a woman who used to live in Ottawa, has ancestors in Gatineau, and still belongs to the Ottawa Branch of the OGS.  She explained the genesis of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and that they do a lot of work on Home Children, including an upcoming conference in Ottawa this fall.  So I hope to get up to that.

I had also volunteered to work in the Research Centre onsite at the conference, as set of 12 laptops with free access to some popular (paid) genealogical websites (like Ancestry and Find My Past.)  The woman who organized the volunteers also looks after inquiries that come into the Toronto Branch of the OGS and they have been looking for someone to deal with inquiries needing research at the North York Central Library, which is a stone’s throw from my place, Helping them out with this will improve my research skills and introduce me to some of the resources that I haven’t yet discovered.

There was a marketplace at the conference with representation from major family history societies, publishers, software and internet-based companies, and some miscellaneous vendors.  I was able to purchase a copy of a book that I had just borrowed from the public library and decided that I needed a copy.  It’s called The Golden Bridge:  Young Immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939 by Marjorie Kohli, and is the best overall resource on Home Children available at the moment.  I had so many post-its in my borrowed copy that I knew I had to get my own!  I also purchsed a CD-ROM containing The Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882, and a book published by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies called Researching Canada’s Home Children by John D. Reid.

I’ll post about what I learned in the sessions later, including some great tips that have already led to me connecting with “cousins”!