British Genealogy - Articles

NEITHER WAIF NOR STRAY: The Search For A Stolen Identity

by Perry Snow

How could anyone steal a child's identity? Millions of Canadians, Americans, Britons, and Australians do not know they are related to each other. There is a harrowing chapter missing from history books about the British Child Emigration Scheme to Canada.

This book provides a personal and professional examination of one British Home Child's life in Canada. The author has documented his father's persistent lifelong efforts to obtain vital information that would have allowed him to find his family in England. It also describes his legacy of a family mystery he inherited after his father's death. Their searches are typical of thousands of British Home Children - and their descendants.

Between 1870 and 1948, more than fifty British childcare organizations deported 100,000 alleged orphaned, abandoned, illegitimate, and impoverished children to Canada ostensibly to "provide them with better lives than they would have had in England." Thousands of 6-to-15-year-old children were transported without their parents' knowledge or consent to work as indentured farm labourers and domestic servants until they were 18 years old.

An unknown number of children ran away from the farms to be swallowed by the vast US. They may have millions of American descendants. There are an estimated 4 million Canadian descendants of the British Home Children. Many desperately seek their potential 20 million British relatives. Is there an "Orphan" in your family tree that became a "Lost Child of the Empire"?

For author and Clinical Psychologist, Perry Snow, examining the psychological traumas experienced by British Home Children is very close to home, as the child profiled in his book was his father. According to Snow, some children were fortunate and were treated as members of Canadian families. But more than half suffered from abuse and neglect. Neither the Canadian government nor the British agencies assumed responsibility for their welfare. Many were not allowed to go to school, nor provided with adequate food, clothing, or shelter. They suffered a unique form of prejudice in Canada because of their presumed “tainted” origins. They were ostracized and accused of being carriers of syphilis. They were unwanted in England and unwelcome in Canada.

“My father became a ward of the Waifs and Strays Society when he was four years old. He never saw his family again," Perry said. "When he was no longer in care, he wrote letters, pleading with them to ‘help one who has been in darkness, and ignorant as to who he is,’" Perry said. For 50 years his father wrote to the Waifs and Strays Society trying to get information about himself and his family. "He never had a birth certificate. He had nothing to verify who he was for the first 33 years of his life," Perry said. "For the next 15 years, he carried a tattered To Whom It May Concern letter stating his name and identifying him as 'of British nationality.'” According to Perry, his father received his Baptism Certificate when he was 48 years old, but was still unable to identify his parents or locate his family at the time of his death on his still-unconfirmed 85th birthday in 1994.

It took a year for Perry to obtain his father’s case file from the Children’s Society: “I discovered they withheld from my father the information he so desperately sought all his life and they didn't readily give it to me," Perry said. "They denied they had information, presented false information, and lied to my father and me,” he added. After four more years of searching, Perry finally identified his grandparents and located four uncles and aunts. He wonders why this organization didn't want his father to know who he was, and was intrigued by the lengths to which the agency went to irrevocably sever family ties. He can't understand why many of the sending agencies continue to withhold information that would allow millions to reunite with their families.

“I hope the successful conclusion of my search will inspire others to persist until they re-establish their familial ties,” Perry said. “No one should live their lives without knowing who they are and to whom they belong -- it is your birthright to know your heritage,” he concluded.

Neither Waif Nor Stray: The Search For A Stolen Identity is published-on-demand on the Internet. A free sample download of the first 25 pages, an electronic edition of the entire 284 pages, or a paperback edition of the book are available at For publication details, and information about discounts for multiple purchases, contact

“… researchers with Home Children in their family trees should devour and savour Neither Waif Nor Stray … genealogists in search of the backgrounds and records of Home Children will benefit from the insights, direct contacts and avenues discussed by the author. Both the bibliography and the appendix are handbooks in themselves, full of useful information and encouraging sidebars. ... Snow makes strong and unmistakable political statements denouncing both the past and current attitudes of government officials towards young 'waifs and strays' shipped like cattle to Canada" (Global Gazette, 2000)

Snow developed a website for listing the names of +5000 British Home Children that people are researching at And he created an email list of +500 international subscribers. To subscribe click on this link:

This article was used with permission and is copyright by Perry Snow. (Granted Feb/2001)

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