British Home Children: The Story of an Investigation (episode 1)

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The Quest of Therese

Therese was born in Montreal, not long after World War I. She was already 90 years old when she asked for my help concerning the mystery of her mother's English origin.

As far as Therese knew, her mom was born in Bristol, in southwestern England, daughter of Walter R. and Mary Jane W. Our English girl's father would have died shortly after her birth. She immigrated to Canada at age 10, without any siblings, with her mother and stepfather—Therese didn't know his name—, and they settled on a farm in Prescott, Ontario. The mother and her husband then had to go back to England having some business to attend to, leaving the child under the care of the village Catholic convent. The couple never returned. After years at the convent, our English girl moved to Montreal alone where she lived off several odd jobs until her marriage. No family, no pictures, no objects would tell the story of her youth besides some fading memories of the farm and of a cruel and mean stepfather.

Therese's dad coming from Rimouski, they would both go over there during the summer. She then gathered with aunts, uncles, cousins; visited houses; looked at photos—in a nutshell, she now had a family. Her father was wounded during World War I, directly exposed to mustard gas. He returned as a broken and handicapped man. He later met our English girl in Montreal and married her. He was 44 years old, she was 38. Therese lost her father at a very young age.

As an only child, Therese lived alone with her mother. If her father had left her a brief family history, her mother would remain silent on the subject. Invariably, all her questions would be answered by a laconic, "What's the point of you knowing all this?" Young Therese grew up with her questions still unanswered. "Is it possible that adults would abandon a child?" "Did the ship they embarked on sank like the Titanic?" "Have they died in England from the Spanish flu?"

It's in the eyes of this 90-year-old woman that I understood the importance of a genealogical investigation, the vital need we have to learn about our own family's history.

"We might not be able to find what we are looking for. So much was lost during the bombing of England."

Let's proceed step by step. Before trying to explore the unknown, the genealogist must rely on known facts. The new information must match the proven facts.

"Let's start with this—your birth, your parents' marriage."

"I have no idea of when and where my parents got married. And at no time I happened to see their wedding pictures. When they met, they were no youngsters. Maybe they just lived together and didn't marry after all."

I am pleased to see that Therese is open-minded about all this. We never know what secret our investigation might reveal.

"When my mother died, I found this document in her personal papers."

I look at it—the paper is worn out but it is still legible. It is the Birth Certificate of Lilly R., delivered by the General Register Office, Somerset House, London, England, referring to the volume from which it was extracted. A sure lead!

"Parents' names are not indicated, but there is a date and a place of birth. That is a good start. I'll get back to you next Saturday."

Matrilineal Line: The One That Raises the Fewest Doubts


When new to genealogy, we usually start with our patrilineal line, climbing up our family tree through our father, then his father, his father's father and so on, until we identify the first European pioneer whose surname was transmitted throughout generations up to ours.

Once this research is achieved, how about looking up for your matrilineal line? This time, you need to find your mother's mother, her maternal grandmother, and so on, always going through the mothers. For each generation, a new surname is therefore added to your tree, each woman's maiden name that is. Your mother's maiden name is unlikely to be the same as her mother's, still who knows? Everything is possible.

Some may ask, what is the point of searching for one's matrilineal line? For the fun of it, of course. And I am sorry, gentlemen, but this line is most certainly the one which raises the fewest doubts in your tree. If a man recognizes a child as his own at the time of the birth, it is more difficult for a woman to hide her pregnancy, even if exceptions do exist. Sometimes a grandmother declares being the mother of a child to save the family's reputation as well as her daughter's.

This research will be rewarding as you will identify the European pioneer, possibly a "Fille à marier" [single woman] or a "Fille du roi [King's Daughter]. You may even climb up one or two additional generations in France. The pioneer's mother or grandmother has passed her native language and culture to this woman who crossed the Atlantic and perpetuated the tradition in New France.

As far as I am concerned, Jacquette Grignon, Pierre Lavoix's wife, of Aytrée, in Charente-Maritime, is for now the earliest matrilineal ancestor whose lineage has been proved and documented. This woman hasn't made the trip to New France. Her husband, then a widower, came to New France with his four children, including three daughters. One of them is my ancestor: Marie de Lavoix who married Pierre Grenon in 1676, in Quebec.

Welcome to GenSpotters

Are you the typical genealogist who devotes either evenings or days all alone working tirelessly at the computer or at the Archives? Maybe you would welcome the idea of consulting a trustworthy Website rather than spending countless hours seeking for information without knowing if you have found a reliable source. Furthermore, if you can find the latest genealogy news on the site, it makes it all the better!

GenSpotters' main objective consists in gathering on its Website useful services for genealogists such as news, information, research, tourism and training as well as this new blog.

Suzanne, Daniel or Diane will make great use of their keyboard and mouse in order to invite you on Saturdays to read their posts about genealogy. Well, we like to think it will go deeper than that. We will write about various subjects, such as migration, because some of our ancestors were hardly leading a sedentary life; social history, because we certainly do want to understand the environment wherein the ones we pursue spent their days; and culture, because we are more than willing to travel to counties and countries where they lived.

Now back to the future—perhaps you already have an idea about this blog journey. If you expect that Daniel will brief you about DNA, that Diane is dying to tell it all on French Canadians from south of the border and that Suzanne will reveal her tips about searching in Italy, you are not far from the truth.

While looking for your ancestors, you usually meet outstanding people. With its featured interviews, GenSpotters will introduce you to actors from the world of genealogy from here and abroad.

Digging up the past may be fun. However, appreciating and acknowledging present time's advantages are not bad either. GenSpotters plans to keep you informed on today's best tools for genealogists, whether for scientific genealogy, software and cultural events.

We can't wait to share our passion with you on GenSpotters!