Genealogical Journeys – Branch #2 – Black

In my last post, I discussed my father’s paternal grandfather, George Bell – the son of Irish immigrants to Canada, born in the Newboro, Ontario area in about 1866.  In this post, the second of a planned series of eight posts discussing the family origins of each of my eight great grand-parents, we turn the focus to George’s wife:  Frances Black.

While my father has boyhood memories of his grandfather George, his grandmother Frances had died two decades before he was born.  She died of influenza in February 1923, in her home in North Crosby Township near Newboro, leaving behind 5 children ranging in age from 12 (my grandfather Bruce) to 15 months (my father’s uncle Charles, who as noted previously would die at 19 in World War II).  While her gravestone says 1924, that appears to be incorrect.  The death registry says she was born in December 1891, but that is contradicted by other records and I don’t believe that datum.  The death registry says that both of Frances’ parents were born in England, but no first name for her father or maiden name for her mother is given.

I’ve seen George & Frances’ marriage registry, from February 1909 (almost exactly nine months before my grandfather’s birth).  It lists Frances’ age as being 22, which places her birth in December 1886; this is consistent with what is listed on the 1911 census, and on her gravestone.  The marriage registry states that Frances was born in England, and gives her parents’ names as Henry & Sarah Black.

The information above is the sum total of what I’ve been able to learn about Frances Black and her ancestors.  And there’s a very specific reason for this lack of information about my great-grandmother:  Frances Black was a British Home Child.

Quoting from a Government of Canada website:

Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

After arriving by ship, the children were sent to distributing and receiving homes, such as Fairknowe in Brockville, and then sent on to farmers in the area. Although many of the children were poorly treated and abused, others experienced a better life here than if they had remained in the urban slums of England.

My great-grandmother arrived in North America in 1902 as a passenger on the S.S. Colonian, which sailed from Liverpool to Portland, Maine.  The U.S. immigration records of the Colonian’s passenger list includes Frances Black, age 15, with a note that she belongs to a “special party in transit to Canada.”  Most of the other passengers listed on the same page as Frances are girls between the ages of 7 and 15.

I’ve learned that Frances was sent abroad by a philanthropic organization then known as Dr. Barnardo’s Homes and now called Barnardo’s.   A newsletter published by Dr. Barnardo’s Homes in late 1902 discusses the journey of the Colonian, as follows:

There has been an increase in our family of 316 souls.  The party, under the usual escort, left London on September 25th and, crossing by the Dominion Line steamer Colonian, disembarked in Portland on October 6th.  Our lads and lasses had a pleasant experience on the ocean, the weather being remarkably fine for the season.  We arrived, thank God, all well, and the distribution of the party to situations or foster-homes was accomplished with the usual expedition.  Our total for the season's emigration is thus 1,060, surpassing last year's number by 47, a modest increase, but none the less a step in advance.

I believe that Frances was sent to Barnardo’s distribution home for girls in Peterborough, Ontario, to await placement.  What that placement for 15-year-old Frances was in late 1902, and how she ended up in Newboro by 1909, is probably lost to the mists of time.  Her marriage registry lists her profession as “domestic servant.”

Also lost would be any context around how the 22-year-old Frances would have met, and agreed to marry, 42-year-old bachelor George Bell.  A minor clue is provided by the marriage registry, where the two witnesses are listed as Ernest Bell and Florence Donohoe, both of Newboro.  My research indicates that Ernest, born in 1887, was the illegitimate son of George’s younger sister Martha, while Florence, born in 1890, was the daughter of George’s older sister Mary Ann.  As such, Frances Black would have been roughly the same age as George’s nephew Ernest and niece Florence, which might have been how the connection was made.

Although I’ve not yet done it, there’s a possibility that by contacting Barnardo’s I might be able to learn more about how Frances Black came to be placed with them and sent abroad.  Was she an orphan?  Or perhaps not?  Quoting from a leading website about the British Home Children in Canada:

For the most part, these children were not picked up from the streets but came from intact families, who, through sickness or even death of one of their parents, had fallen on hard times. Because there was no social system in place to help them get through these difficult circumstances, the family had no other way than to surrender their offspring to the organizations.

Sometimes this was meant to be a temporary solution until the family got back on their feet and there are cases on record where some parents went back to pick their children up, only to find that they had already been sent away. Sometimes the parents received an ‘after sailing’ notification, informing that their children had been emigrated a week before.

But for now, I know far less about this one-eighth of my origins than I’ve been able to learn about the other seven-eighths.  The stats on Frances Black:

  • National Origin:  100% English (presumptive)
  • Religion:  Church of England
  • Immigration Status:  1st-generation immigrant (at age 15, as a British Home Child)


In the next post we’ll shift attention to my father’s maternal grandfather, David Stillman (1867-1936).