Blog Article

Foundlings and reconnecting with lost family members

Foundlings and reconnecting with lost family members

Date: 18th July 2022

At the core of what we do is cementing your life story for future generations to enjoy and share.  

The popularity of shows like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has sparked interest in heritage, lineage and discovering the story of our ancestors.  

When uncovering your family history, it is common to find out that there is a gap in your lineage, which can be attributed to a family member being a foundling.  

Foundling is a historic term coined for young children, usually babies that were abandoned at birth, which was more prominent in the 18th and 19th century. Many children were left on church doorsteps, and it's estimated that one thousand babies were abandoned annually in London during this time. One of the reasons for the rise of foundlings during this period was, at that time, it was considered against the societal norm and religious beliefs to have children out of wedlock.  

This led to the inception of the Foundling Hospital in 1739, where abandoned children would be housed and care for. It was established by Thomas Coram, who campaigned for 17 years until he finally received a Royal Charter from King George II to found it. Coram was appalled by the conditions experienced by some children, and though the city was a global powerhouse of industry and wealth, it was also polluted, disease-ridden and child mortality was soaring. According to, around 31% of children were tragically dying before their first birthday, and half of children before they turned three.  

The Foundling Hospital was designed to care and educate for the vulnerable, and looked after an astounding 25,000 children during its two centuries in operation. The Foundling Hospital has now been transformed into a museum which is accessible to the public.  

When admitted to the Foundling Hospital, the children would have their past wiped from existence, changing their names and any link to their prior family to prevent stigma for both the parents and child, due to being born out of wedlock. Though this is an archaic view, it was normal for the time and meant that for many there is a gap in their ancestral timeline. Some would never come to know of their predecessors, and it is only when people trace their family tree that they discover blood relatives they knew nothing about.  

A fantastic account of this was covered by The Guardian in 2014 titled ‘I was one of Britains last foundlings’, and documents the story of Tom Mackenzie, who was given to the foundling hospital in the 1940’s. Tom was part of the last class to be enrolled in the Foundling Hospital, and at 15, was part of the last class to leave. Thankfully, at 21, Tom was eventually able to locate his biological family after a long search.  

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