Family history: researching children’s homes

Lost children weren’t always adopted, as happens to Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity. If she had been born a century earlier, she may have been taken to one of many children’s homes in London. In 1739 London’s Foundling Hospital opened, a basket placed at its door to allow infants to be left anonymously. In the late 19th century poverty in London’s East End was notorious and this is where, in 1866, Thomas Barnardo established his first boys’ home. Lampson House Home for Girls [below] opened in London in 1894. If you are tracing a relative who was in a children’s home, the records may be held in a variety of places.

Children's Homes

[photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

Most children’s homes were privately run so the survival of documentation is inconsistent, records identifying individuals are widely held closed for 100 years. A useful website is The Children’s Homes which lists the location of existing records for many former homes. Other records which give an insight into lifestyle conditions [below] in children’s homes – such as reports of inspections, dietary diaries – can be found at the National Archives.

Children's Homes

[photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

Children's Homes

[photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

Records for workhouses can be found in the appropriate county/metropolitan record office where you may also find records for workhouses taken over by the local council, and for later council-run homes dating up until the 1980s.

Children's Homes

[photo: hiddenlives.org.uk]

If your relative disappears from the records, it is possible that the child was moved on. An institution only had so many places, so in order to accommodate new arrivals some of the existing inmates were boarded out/fostered or have emigrated. If the child was older, it is possible he/she trained for an occupation.  Boys were trained for the navy, girls for sewing [see above, the sewing room of a children’s home, in 1900].

 

Children’s homes

This post was inspired by the article ’Focus on Children’s Homes’ in the February 2016 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Click here for more information.

Children’s homes

 

‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now

Comments

  1. Great article, Sandra. The info here about children’s homes is excellent, a jumping off point for anyone who wants to do further research about identity. When I was a kid, orphanages bore a dreary persona, of places that kept unwanted kids and did little for them. Probably true in some cases, but other facilities tried to prepare their kids for a future, however limited the opportunities. Kids need family.