The basics

This guide was last updated in 2012

Start by collecting together all the information you already know about your ancestor who spent time in a children’s home or orphanage.

Family memories are important to record 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, with stories invented to cover up distressing events. Considerable sensitivity may therefore be required when exploring such matters. Other family material such as letters, photos, newspaper cuttings and so on may also prove useful.

Ideally, you will have at least the birth certificate for your ancestor – their birth date, full name, mother’s name etc. will help confirm whether a particular inmate of a home is the person you’re looking for. A census record for the person while they were in the institution will also be very useful. Civil registration indexes and census records are available online via a number of commercial sources (for instance,, and

One word of caution: 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 permanently absent for some reason – could categorise you as an orphan.


Children's homes
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