When you read this article I will be on the first day of my big trip to the United Kingdom.
In 1886 my paternal grandfather was born in Hammersmith to a single mother. England was troubled economically and socially at the time. Jack the Ripper and the plague threatened its population. It was what Charles Dickens called “The best of times and the worst of times”. His works entitled “Oliver Twist” and “David Copperfield” painted the picture of how difficult life was for everyone back then – but especially for the children.
Many individuals rose up in England to help the poor and needy. Dr. Thomas Barnardo had wanted to be a missionary in China but his friend convinced him to stay in London because there was so much need there. He began setting up orphanages with the motto: “No Destitute Child ever Refused”.
When grandpa was five years of age, my great-grandmother contracted pleurisy and pneumonial fever. She knew that she couldn’t take care of her son and therefore willingly signed the Canadian Agreement so that he could immigrate to what appeared to be “the promised land”. Little Robert had to be prepared for his new life and so the Dr. Barnardo Homes sent him to work in an orchard. He lived in a number of foster homes and finally, when he had just turned eleven years of age, he sailed to Montreal. He was one of over 86,000 children who left England and immigrated to other countries around the turn of the nineteenth century
Grandpa was in a line up in Montreal when he heard the Customers Officer ask the boy ahead of him “Why did you come to Canada?” The boy replied “I am going to be a farmer”. When it was grandpa’s turn, he was asked the same question and replied “I guess I’ll be a farmer too”. He was sent to Wolseley, Saskatchewan and the occupation listed on the subsequent Census classified him as a servant.
Grandpa never saw his family again but built a life in Canada. He set an example of courage and good character for all of his descendants that will live long beyond his ninety-five years on earth. Grandpa left a hand-written journal for us that contained powerful thoughts. One that I love is: “People are like trees. If we grow up in sheltered places we would be too discouraged when the storm hits. A little buffeting about makes us stronger both physically and spiritually.” So true!
Over the years I have shared grandpa’s story with many people. A couple of years ago I was contracted to be a speaker on the Celebrity Cruise lines and, after telling the passengers about grandpa, was challenged by my son to find out more about our ancestors.
So, I purchased a membership for a genealogy website and now have traced the family back to 1642 Cornwall. I have birth and marriage certificates, addresses and interesting data back to my eighth great-grandfather.
On September 5th my daughter and I are flying to London and will spend two weeks tracing the footsteps of our ancestors. (I have promised her that we will intersperse our cemetery tours with stops at local pubs!)
Family is important. Tracing our past helps us to understand our identity.
While I am away, why not think about where you came from and how the choices of your ancestors influenced your life? And when I return, we can share stories.