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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
British Research Sources
When you have found a reference to a locality in Britain from your work in Canadian sources, you may feel ready to move on to British sources.
Ship’s Passenger Lists
The Board of Trade retains some passenger lists for departures to Canadian ports from 1890, in BT 27 at The National Archives (formerly called the Public Record Office ... PRO) in Kew, London, England. There are no nominal indexes. BT32 contains the date of departure for ships to Canada and elsewhere, but only after 1920—this is useful if you know the ship’s name but not the port or exact departure date. Normally the Canadian passenger lists are more informative and more accessible.
Poor Law Unions
Emigrating children from England were likely affected by the Poor Law sometime during their early lives. Poor Law Unions (local groups of parishes united under Boards of Guardians for Poor Law administration purposes) were the official social welfare system of the time and they operated local workhouses where schooling was overseen by a Board of Guardians. Records survive at different rates for some jurisdictions and are usually archived in County Record Offices; for addresses and catalogues of holdings see the website.
Among the many subjects in the Board of Guardians Minute books may be individual records of admission or, less frequently, discharge. Creed Registers assisted various clergy to identify their adherents in the workhouse; as well as name and religion, they may contain date of birth, date of admission, geographical origin, next of kin or other contacts. Vaccination Registers (smallpox vaccination had been mandatory since 1853) were supposed to include name of a parent if the child was illegitimate. Registers of admission and discharge, birth and death, and others may also be available.
Scotland had a different system—parochial boards administered poor relief. Workhouses or institutional homes were few and far between, except in the cities. The most relevant records would be the parochial boards’ Record of Applications and General Register of the Poor. Look for Scottish Parochial Board Records in county, district and burgh level sources, starting with . Ireland’s system was modelled on that of England and Wales. Many surviving records can be found in county library collections, with some at The National Archives of Ireland.
Browsing all the many sources improves your understanding of the system and how it affected the children. A wonderfully detailed and highly recommended site for Internet browsing is at: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/.
Registration of births, marriages and deaths started in England and Wales on 1 July 1837. However a substantial fraction of births—the event which interests us most for home children—were not registered in the early decades, more so for the poor and Catholics. Name indexes have long been available on microfilm through the Family History Library and its local Centers. For each quarter of the year the birth indexes are arranged alphabetically by surname, then by given name. The index tells you the name of the registration district and the volume and page where the full entry occurs—also known as the index reference number.
A convenient way to search the national indexes is at the FreeBMD site, a work in progress by volunteers. If FreeBMD cannot help, try one of the commercial sites; or at this site. After making a note of the index reference number, go to the General Register Office (GRO) site (“Order certificates online”). Among the details on the certificate are requirements for mother’s and father’s names. If you don’t find the child in the national indexes but you know the county of birth, you can try searching for an index to regional records. and check what is available for that county. Not all are yet online, but the same website may offer other options.
Scotland began its civil registration in 1855 by authority of the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS). Microfilmed indexes to births up to 1955 are available through the FHL. You can purchase certificates online; for a birth 100 years old or more. For births less than 100 years old, consult the online information.
Birth registration in Ireland started in 1864. Records for all Ireland from 1864 to 1922, and from 1922 for the Republic, are at the Office of the Registrar General in Dublin. Northern Irish records since 1922 are at the General Register Office in Belfast. The FHL has microfilm copies of most indexes and registers for the period of our interest.
National census records that record every household name began in 1841. Except for Ireland they are available every ten years to 1901. Again, microfilmed censuses can be viewed by Interloan through the FHL and its Centers, for the years 1841-1901. Irish census records for this period did not survive except for a few fragments. The following are major initiatives at making indexes, databases and digital images online; this is a sample at the time of publication, but the sites are constantly adding new material:
- Ancestry.com, a pay site for complete 1841-1901 indexes, with links to images, and other years in progress, England and Wales.
- Find My Past, a pay site which has some counties in England indexed for the 1861 census.
- FreeCEN, a free site with partial indexes and transcriptions for different census years, continually growing.
- FamilySearch, free site with complete index and transcription for the 1881 census England and Wales. Select Europe from the Historical Records Collection and then England and Wales Census, 1881.
- Scotlands People, pay site nearing completion of an index and transcription, including links to original images, for all censuses of Scotland 1841 to 1901.
A little background is given for each organization with the names of the receiving and distributing homes, then addresses if contact can be made or records available.
- Barnardo Homes Founded in 1869 by Thomas Barnardo; total emigration to Canada approached 30,000 children. They were known as Barnardo Homes in Canada, in Toronto (mainly boys), Peterborough (mainly girls), Russell, Manitoba (boys) and a few others. Some British receiving homes were Stepney Causeway, Girls’ Village Homes in Ilford, Essex, and numerous others. Visit the website under “What We Do” and “Working with former Barnardo’s Children” to see “Researching your family history?”
- Macpherson Homes Annie Macpherson, a Quaker and evangelical Christian, inspired both Thomas Barnardo and her sister Louisa Birt at the Liverpool Sheltering Home. Children came from the Home of Industry in East London and came to Marchmont in Belleville, Ontario; Blair Athol in Galt; Toronto; Hamilton; Stratford; and Knowlton in Quebec. Records from this organization have been collected with Barnardo’s.
- Catholic Emigration Association Father Nugent of the Diocese of Liverpool pioneered this agency which saw more than 10,000 Catholic youngsters emigrate. In 1903 previous efforts were amalgamated as the Catholic Emigration Association under the authority of the Catholic Children’s Rescue Societies in several dioceses. Montreal was the primary Canadian destination until 1899 when St. George’s Home in Ottawa became the distributing home. Each of the successor societies to this Association has a database of all known Catholic emigrants to Canada so they can identify from which Rescue Society a child originated, and thus which agency may still hold records.
Initial enquiries to:
Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) 73 St. Charles Square London W10 6EJ;
Cabrini Children’s Society 49 Russell Hill Road Purley, Surrey CR8 2XB
Founded in Glasgow by William Quarrier as The Orphan Homes of Scotland; about 7,200 children were sent (none between 1897 and early 1904). Activities at various locations in Scotland were centralized at Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow, and include the Douglas Industrial Home on Isle of Man. First they used the Macpherson distributing homes (e.g. Marchmont in Belleville) but later established their own Fairknowe Home in Brockville. Inspection records generally have not survived but admission records are usually available. For information about genealogical research see their website.
- Quarriers Head Office
- Quarriers Village
- Bridge of Weir, Scotland PA11 3SX
Liverpool Sheltering Home
Louisa Birt, sister of Annie Macpherson, founded this home with a group of local businessmen and her daughter continued the work. Approximately 6,000 children emigrated. The homes in Liverpool were Byrom Street Home and Myrtle Street Home. In Canada, distributing homes were Oakfield, Nova Scotia; Knowlton, Quebec; Marchmont, Belleville. Records are kept with Barnardo’s and Liverpool University.
Founded in Birmingham as the Children’s Emigration Homes by John T. Middlemore, they sent about 5,000 children to Canada. They are associated with Fairbridge Farm Schools which is now part of the Prince’s Trust. Receiving homes in the UK were Children’s Emigration Homes in Birmingham: St. Luke’s Street (boys) and Spring Street (girls). Canadian homes were Guthrie House in London and Fairview Home in Halifax. All the records appear to be on microfilm at LAC, but terms of access vary according to dates. They must be viewed on-site at LAC and written permission from Middlemore Homes is necessary to make any photocopies from the films. The same records exist in the Archives at the Birmingham Public Library.
The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) has done a great deal of research on the Middlemore Homes—their background, their emigration scheme and the children who passed through the homes. The organization’s quarterly publication Anglo-Celtic Roots has included a number of articles on this research over the years. For example, The Middlemore Project: Part IX, Middlemore Home, Fairview Station, Nova Scotia (pp 106-114 Volume 12, no. 4, Winter 2006) is the ninth article in the series. Also much information has been added to their website.
Miss Rye was the pioneer of child emigration; some 4,200 emigrated. From 1896 her work was continued by the Waifs and Strays Society. The British receiving home was in Peckham, South London; in Canada, Our Western Home was located in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Surviving records are at Liverpool University.
National Children’s Home
Rev. Thomas Bowman Stephenson (Methodist) founded the National Children’s Homes and Orphanages in 1869; approximately 3,600 children emigrated. Established in London, NCH had as many as 30 to 40 receiving homes open at any one time and more than 80 homes in all. Hamilton was the Canadian centre for distributing. Records are with the current organization and at Liverpool University.
10 Great Queen Street
London WC2B 5DG
James W.C. Fegan worked in London and the Home Counties. About 3,200 boys (mainly from 14 to 17 years of age) emigrated. British homes were High Street in Deptford, Little Wanderers’ Home in Greenwich, the Southward Home, and The Red Lamp in Westminster. Homes in Canada were in Toronto, Ontario and Brandon, Manitoba. Records from the Fegan Canadian homes are held by Mr. Douglas Fry, 30 Miles Ave., Brantford, Ontario N3R 5B3.
Mr.Fegan’s Homes Inc. 160 St. James Road Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2HE
Church of England Waifs and Strays Society
The central home was established by Edward Rudolf in 1881. The official names changed over time but Church of England Waifs and Strays remained part of the name for many years. The Society operated nearly 175 children’s homes up to 1918 (but not all at once); the first for girls was in East Dulwich and for boys at Upper Clacton. Now it is known as The Children’s Society. In Canada at different times, there were Gibbs’ Home in Sherbrooke, Quebec; Benyon Home, Sherbrooke, Quebec (boys); Our Western Home, Niagara-on-the-Lake (girls); Elizabeth Rye Home, Toronto (girls); and Winnipeg Babies’ Home. Material on the Society’s emigration activities is heavily censored but some of their early publications are reproduced.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
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