Child migrant ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2009

As more and more records become available, there are an increasing number of ways to trace child ancestors resettled around the world. Roger Kershaw offers his guide to getting started

British child migration schemes operated from 1618 to 1967. During this period it was estimated that some 150,000 children were sent to the British colonies and dominions, most notably America, Australia, and Canada, but also Rhodesia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Many of the children were in the care of the voluntary organisations that arranged migration. The aim was often to increase the population within the colonies, and to improve labour and productivity there.

It was estimated that in the mid-18th century, one-in-three of all paupers was under 16 years old. This put an enormous strain on poor law authorities, which could not find apprenticeships for all pauper children. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1850 allowed Boards of Guardians to send children under 16 overseas for the first time.

Between 1869 and the early 1930s, over 100,000 children were sent to Canada from Great Britain. One of the first parties of young paupers to be taken to Canada was led by social reformer Maria Rye. Most of her migrants came from the schools for destitute children opened by Annie Macpherson in London and Liverpool in 1870, rather than workhouse schools. Such schemes (like those carried out by other voluntary groups such as Dr Barnardo’s, and the Canadian Catholic Emigration Committee) had to arrange for the reception of the children in Canada and for their settlement.

It is not always easy to find records of child migrants though much is being done to improve this, particularly online.

Photo © Getty Images

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