Back at Who Do You Think You Are? Live last February, I saw a perfect example of how much someone’s family history can mean to them.
A lady told me that she was struggling to find any record of her granddad before his marriage around 1930. I tried looking in the usual places – censuses, city directories, military records – but I couldn’t find anything either.
So, I suggested that he could have left the country. I introduced her to our overseas passenger lists and after a bit of digging we found him in a Canadian passenger list at just 10 years old. There were all kinds of details on the record, and we were surprised to see that although his ‘occupation’ in England was ‘scholar’, he was planning to become a ‘farm labourer’ in Canada.
We then noticed that all the other passengers on the list were also young children, intended for equally physical work. We realised that her granddad was a British Home Child.
This was an emotional discovery. She didn’t know a huge amount about the Home Children, but she knew enough to realise that he had probably had a difficult life both before and after this journey, and may well have lost touch completely with the rest of the family.
Thankfully the story had a happy ending. We knew that Granddad was back in England in time to marry in the ‘30s, and sure enough we were able to spot his voyage home in the UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960.
This tale shows the value of passenger lists, and other migration records. As well as answering puzzles in our families’ pasts, they often reveal crucial turning points for our ancestors. Uprooting to a new country would have shaped the rest of their lives, and perhaps had repercussions for the rest of the family right up to the present day.
If I was doing the same search today, it would be quicker and easier. Our brand new release, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, shows more than 15 million travellers as they left the UK.
As well as personal details like addresses and occupations, it tells you the port your relatives left from, the country they were headed to, and even the ship they sailed on. So, it would have been relatively simple for me to spot Granddad in those records, then pick up his arrival in Canada.
What we found completely changed how my friend from WDYTYA? Live saw her grandfather, and she was desperate to get home and share her discovery with her mum. Hopefully our new records will help many of you make similarly emotional and important findings about your own families.
Authored by Russell James
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