Following my review of “Teaching Children to Clean“, I was offered the chance to review another title from Universal Publishers for free and my eye was caught by Neither Waif Nor Stray: The Search For A Stolen Identity by Perry Snow. I’ve always had a fascination for genealogy, although I haven’t had time to continue pursuing my own family history since before son1 was born.
Here is the book blurb.
My Father became a ward of the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society when he was four years old in 1913. When he was 15, they gave him the choice of emigrating to Australia or Canada. No one wanted him in England. They sent him to work on Canadian farms as an indentured farm labourer. He was part of the little-known British Child Emigration Scheme in which fifty child-care organizations emigrated 100,000 children to Canada between 1880-1930. An unknown number made their way to the United States. These alleged orphan children were between 6-15 years old and were known as The Home Children. The organizations professed a dominant motive of providing these children with better lives than what they might have had in England, but they had other ignoble motives. Half of these children suffered from child neglect and abuse. The scheme persisted interrupted only by WWI and WWII until the mid-1960s when these organizations sent 15,000 children to Australia, New Zealand, and Africa.
My Father never had a Birth Certificate. He had nothing to verify who he was for the first 33 years of his life. For the next 15 years, he carried a tattered To Whom it May Concern letter that stated his name and identified him as of British nationality. For the first half of his life, he had serious doubts if his surname was really Snow. He wondered if someone had simply invented it for him. When he was 48 years old, he obtained a Baptism Certificate that confirmed his name, identified his Mother, but not his Father. For the next 16 years, this was all he had for identification. When he was 64 years old, he received his Canadian Citizenship. He wrote to the Waifs and Strays Society for 55 years, but they withheld from him the vital information he so desperately sought. Why did they not want him to know who he was? I resumed his lifelong search following his death on his unconfirmed birthday in 1994. The Children’s Society reluctantly released his 82-year-old case file to me. It took me four years to identify his Parents and locate his Family.
Your ancestors may have been British Home Children. You may be one of the four million of Canada’s “Invisible Immigrants.” Your ancestor’s stories do not appear in Canadian school curricula. The British childcare organizations deliberately severed the Home Children’s familial ties. The four million descendants have a potential 20 million British relatives. If one purpose of the scheme was to simply rid Britain of an unwanted element of their society, they only partially succeeded. They underestimated the strength of needing to know who you are – to have an identity. I hope the successful conclusion of my search will inspire others to persist until they re-establish their familial ties. No one should live their lives without knowing who they are and to whom they belong. It is your birthright to know your heritage.
This book is divided into 5 parts. The first part details the life of the author’s father Frederick Snow, separated from his family at age 4 via fostering and Childrens’ Homes and then forcibly emigrated as a British Home Child to Canada at age 15. A tough life continued, lonely too until he met his wife Gert and had 6 children. At last a family again who loved him. Throughout his life, he wrote many times to the “Waifs and Strays”, now known as The Children’s Society to ask for his birth and baptism certificates and for details of his family. He was constantly fobbed off with minimal (mis)information and never received a birth certificate. His baptism certificate was eventually provided many years later in 1957. He died in 1994 assuming that John Snow was his father. This was actually his grandfather.
Part 2 is about the author taking on the search. He started about a year before his father died, but sadly didn’t piece the jigsaw together until after Fred had died. Again he was drip-fed information even though he requested his father’s full case file several times. And it was mainly due to the goodwill of other local researchers helping that he was able to fill in the blanks.
Part 3 is hypothetical and covers how the author would have told his father about his family if he had the opportunity.
Parts 4 and 5 are more general, discussing the psychological impact on the British Home Children and the Universal Rights of a Child.
We are so used to Barnado’s and The Children’s Society being reputable charities that I was quite shocked to discover that their past wasn’t so pure back in the 1920s. And that as recently as 20 years ago, they were hindering applications for information. By then, with the internet, it should have been very straight-forward to assist.
Neither Waif Nor Stray: The Search For A Stolen Identity is available on Amazon, currently priced at £18.95 in paperback. A fascinating read and for more details on the Snow family tree, you may see here.
Disclosure. This post is a review of an e-book I was sent for free. All opinions are my own.