Children's Home Records

Getting Started

If you're trying to locate records for yourself, or for someone you know (or suspect) was in some kind of children's home, a good first step is to organise and write down all the information you already know or can obtain first-hand. If the person is an ancestor in the more distant past, then it's worth spending the time to do a bit of initial groundwork.

Family memories are always useful to record, even if fairly vague, but remember that the circumstances that led to a child ending up in institutional care, such as poverty, illegitimacy or marital break-up, were often considered shameful. You may find that people are reluctant to talk about details or were themselves told a false story to cover up embarrassing events. Considerable sensitivity may therefore be required when exploring such matters.

Other family material in the form of letters, photos, newspaper cuttings may also prove useful in your researches. People often find it difficult to pinpoint exact dates, but can often give relative dates, e.g. 'it was just before the war started', or 'it was the year after Auntie Mary died' which can indirectly help place events.

The ideal starting point is a the birth certificate for the person concerned — their birth date, full name, mother's name etc. may help confirm that an inmate recorded at a home is definitely the person you're looking for. Having a census record for the person while they were in the institution will also be a great help. Civil registration indexes and census records are available online via a number of online sources (some requiring payment of a subscription) including:

It should be noted the term 'orphan' had a rather looser meaning in the past than it does nowadays. For many purposes, just having a father who was dead — or even just permanently absent for some reason — could categorise you as an orphan.