British Home Children: The Story of an Investigation (episode 2)

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Photo: Isaac Erb / Library and Archives Canada / PA-041785 / « British immigrant children from Dr. Barnardo's Homes at landing stage, Saint John, N.B. »

Lilly's Origins

The following Saturday, I had in my hands Thérèse's Montréal baptismal record that proved her parentage. I also found her parents' marriage record that mentioned parents' names of both spouses. These two records were easily located in the Drouin Collection Records. The parents' names of our English girl agreed with the information given by Thérèse—Lilly R. was the daughter of Walter R. and Mary Jane W. of Bristol. I only had to obtain Lilly's long-form birth certificate to pursue my investigation.

On the General Register Office Website, one may get in just a few days a long-form birth certificate in PDF format for a 6-pound fee. The website features births from 1837 to 1916 and deaths from 1837 to 1957 for England and Wales, as well as a search index. As the document provided by Thérèse included an extract number, my order was reliable and fast.

While waiting for the PDF's delivery by email, I turned to Ancestry Website. Alas, without any results for the couple R.-W. in England and I did not know the name of the mother's second husband. I perused the Passenger Lists, looking for a couple travelling with a ten-year-old child, as well as the Ontario Census Index. Nothing—the family was nowhere to be found. Typically, when you cannot get the answer, you are probably asking the wrong question.

"I have found your parent's marriage record. The wedding was celebrated three months before your birth, in a church outside of their neighbourhood."

"Oh, the little rascals!"

It turns out the truth was easier to swallow than the secrecy surrounding it.

"Here's more—I have received Lilly's birth certificate from London. We see that she was born from an unknown father and that she bore her mother's surname, Mary Jane R. Mary Jane was a servant in a wealthy neighbourhood of Bristol and her address is mentioned."

Lilly's secret was then in the open. She was an illegitimate child, a bastard as such children were referred to at that time. One must remember the strict Victorian morality of that era. The biggest surprise was yet to come.

As I knew our English girl's real name, I was able to resume my search in the Passenger List. Still with no success. It was time to adopt a new strategy, and I hence concentrated on the ten-year-old girl.

In the Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, one Lilly R. popped up: female, born the same year as our English girl, arriving at the Port of Quebec from Liverpool, England. The child was part of a 40-child group, all British, travelling with one Reverend Robert Wallace to Belleville, Ontario. Children, without any parent!

As I went on with my search, I found out that Reverend Wallace and his wife ran an orphanage called Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario. With the help of Miss Annie MacPherson, he made multiple trips to England to bring English orphans to Canada, young immigrants known as Home Children. I will come back to this later. First, I had to come up with more information on this orphanage. I learned that it was closed in 1925 and that the files were transferred to Barnardo's Group.

As this was the only valid assumption explaining Lilly's arrival in Canada, we sent a request to Barnardo's Group in London to obtain a copy of Lilly's file as she was part of this group. It is noteworthy to point out that no one except the first direct descendant may make such a request. After gathering all the required filiation proofs and paying the 52-pound fee, we learned that the file contained a picture of Lilly ( !!! ) and that it would be mailed in the following 6 to 9-month period.

Then started a long suspense. Would the assumption be confirmed or not? The answer lay in the photo we were awaiting.