18    Nov 20090 comments

UK and Australian Histories Entwined through Migrant Children

Uk Children on their way to AustraliaThis week the media drew attention to a dark page in the history of Australia and the United Kingdom. Many of you know about the convicts that were shipped from the UK to Australia, but what came to light in recent weeks was that this wasn't the last wave of forced migration; seven thousand English kids from deprived backgrounds were also sent to Australia after the Second World War. In total 150,000 British children are believed to have been sent to Commonwealth countries.

Australian premier Kevin Rudd apologized this week to the British children, most of them from deprived backgrounds, who were sent to Australia, often to be put in foster homes or forced to work on farms. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will do the same in the new year.

These children -often without even a passport or other documentation- were sent abroad with the promise of a better life,

but many were shipped off to face abuse and a regime of unpaid labour. More sadly still, many of them were removed from Britain without their parents' consent and some of them have grown up never even knowing their real parents were still alive.

It was a British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, who began lifting the lid on this sad chapter in Britain's history in 1987, but it has taken until 1999 for Britain to recognize the plight of these children and until now for politicians to offer a formal apology.

Humphreys stumbled upon the story accidentally when a client of hers insisted that her younger brother had been sent to Australia as a child. She subsequently found out the boy wasn’t the only one to have been sent away and vowed to help the thousands of others.

Humphreys then set up an organization, the Child Migrants Trust, to help these children find their birth certificates, their parents and their past. This was a very interesting story from a genealogical point of view as the trust bought copies of every birth, marriage and death certificate in England dating back to 1890 to assist children. It now has more than 100 million documents on microfilm. They now provide services such as retrieving files and personal documents from government departments and the migrating agency archives; obtaining the birth certificates for former Child Migrants, some of whom have no other proof of identity; and conducting family research worldwide.

The Trust's track record in its work of tracing the families of former Child Migrants is impressive. Many hundreds of people have been reunited with their families as a result of the research conducted by the Trust.

We at MyHeritage hope that our databases can be of help too to those that are still looking for their family histories.

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