Saturday, 7 January 2017

Putting Your Ancestor's Lives into Perspective

Victorian Slums, BBC Documentary

This documentary series gives incredible insight into the poverty and desperation that led our ancestors to relinquish their children to homes such as Barnardos or Middlemore for a better life. It really was a matter of survival. Even those that might have been mistreated here in Canada were at least alive - something that likely wouldn't have happened had they remained with their families. 

Middlemore actually did an experiment of sorts. Followed 40 kids sent to Canada and 40 who stayed in Birmingham. The 40 BHC did very well and the vast majority stayed with the families they lived with beyond their 18th birthday. Of the 40 in England none fared well. They either died or were in prison.

For many of our ancestors, leaving their homeland, it is easy can also see how surviving the trip over wasn't as much of a hardship as it would have been for us. They were already living in dank, dirty, overcrowded quarters with little to eat. At least the promise of a fresh new life lay on the other side of the voyage. As scary as that might have been. 

Although the series is set in London, it was the same situation in all of the large industrial cities - Birmingham and Glasgow included. While the series starts in the 1860s, the reality is that while times changed and things looked up for some, for the very poor, life simply became more desperate.  It's hard not to let our 21st century emotions colour our view of the reality of our ancestor's lives and the times they were living in. It becomes really important to keep their lives in an historical perspective.

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