Saturday, 16 January 2010

Four Thomases

I belong to a branch of a Family History Society which once a year has a meeting in which we share our stories, problems, artefacts, &c.. This year's meeting took place this morning at which I decided to bring together the three blogs I wrote last year on 'Home Children' on 24 January, 11 April and 8 July. They told the story of Thomas McIlhagga, a cousin of my father, who on 20 May 1909 aged 13 found himself aboard the ship Corsican with 92 other children setting sail from Liverpool for Canada. He ended up in Knowlton, Quebec as 'cheap labour' for farmer Thomas Patterson .

Thomas McIlhagga was sent abroad because his mother had died the year before and presumably his father couldn't cope bringing him up as a single parent. His older sister had gone to live with a neighbouring family. I'm unsure what happened to his father before he 'surfaced' almost ten years later to remarry widow Agnes Baker. Farmer Patterson and his wife in Quebec had no children of their own though, as we can see from the 1911 Census, they had living next door to them an extended family, who we hope befriended Thomas and gave him a reasonable time through his teenage years.

When he was twenty-one Thomas volunteered to enlist in the Great War and served overseas, presumably on the European Continent. I wonder if the lingua franca of Quebec stood him in good stead in France? When he returned to Canada after the War he got a job at St. Joseph's Hospital in Trenton, Ontario. There he met his future wife, Edith. They appear not to have had any children of their own, and, perhaps in gratitude for Thomas's own adoption, they adopted a lad whose birth name was Joseph Thomas Smith. Thomas, my father's cousin and Joseph Thomas' adoptive father, took the second name of Joseph, possibly when he married Edith in a Roman Catholic Church. We can make this assumption as we know that he was buried in 1970 in Mount Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery.

I think we can assume that Thomas Joseph McIlhagga never returned to his native land. Joseph Thomas apparently lost contact with both his birth family and his adoptive family and there is no trace of him after about 1975. It is of course possible that he did not continue to use his adoptive surname and it could well be that he is still only in his sixties today and survives somewhere in North America

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