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30-04-2019, 18:09   #1
VirginiaB
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The child left behind

I'm in the US. I have several times, either in my own or friends' families, found couples or families who emigrated but left a child behind with one or both grandparents. I can only guess that the child was meant to be company and/or a help to the old folks. When grown, the child emigrated but often with bitter feelings. Sometimes a family break ensued. Other children were born and the 'left-behind' child felt like something of an outsider.

Have you run across this and can you shed any light on this practice, which I suspect was not limited to Ireland?
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30-04-2019, 18:23   #2
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Oh that's so sad. If the grandparents had a farm, the child left behind would be chosen as the future farmer in some cases I'd say. Childhood was very short in those days with children working from age fourteen if not earlier. It's a pity those children felt resentful as imo they were the ones being given the family silver so to speak. They were being given all the family had whereas the other children would have to make their own way in the big bad world. That's my thinking anyway ie that they were the chosen ones not the rejects. I can understand their feelings too though as things were rarely talked out over here so were probably never explained to them.
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30-04-2019, 18:24   #3
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Not exactly the same thing but I'd a relation that was sent away to live with relatives that had no kids as his parent (his Dad had died) couldn't afford to feed him.
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30-04-2019, 18:39   #4
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Another thing was that commonly a typical married couple and their children lived with his parents ie the grandparents so it wasn't like the child left behind was left with strangers. The grandparents would have been as familiar to such a child as his/her parents and siblings. And yes I'd say you are right about being left as company for the old folks. Probably to stop them dying from broken hearts if everyone went from them.
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30-04-2019, 18:59   #5
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My Grandmother was left behind.

After the death of my G Grandfather in 1905 from TB (he was in his 20s) his wife moved back to the family farm in Kerry with her two small daughters - youngest was my grandmother and she never met her father. He was in the British Army and had been shipped out before she was born.

G Grandmother was, by all accounts treated as a skivvy, so she emigrated to the U.S. It took her a few years to get the money together to go as for reasons we still haven't worked out any monies due to her husband from the army was paid to his brothers - who were in the same regiment.

When G Grandmother got on her feet in the US she sent for the eldest daughter but by the time she was able to send for my grandmother WWI was in full swing.
Upshot was my Grandmother was raised by a childless aunt in Cork who owned a pub - on the promise of inheriting the pub. She worked there as unpaid labour until she married in 1924.
She absolutely resented her mother and sister and was, tbh, a distant and emotionally cold woman. However, when my G Grandmother died in the 1940s it emerged that for every cent she spent on her eldest daughter she put an equal amount away for my grandmother. My grandmother bought the house they were renting outright with the money left to her.
I honestly don't know if she ever inherited the pub...

Last edited by Bannasidhe; 01-05-2019 at 18:29.
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30-04-2019, 19:00   #6
myshirt
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Not exactly the same thing but I'd a relation that was sent away to live with relatives that had no kids as his parent (his Dad had died) couldn't afford to feed him.
That certainly did happen. I personally know three people in that category.
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30-04-2019, 19:00   #7
Hermy
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It's a pity those children felt resentful as imo they were the ones being given the family silver so to speak.
They were losing their parents and siblings.
No farm can replace that loss!
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30-04-2019, 19:13   #8
Mrsmum
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They were losing their parents and siblings.
No farm can replace that loss!
I'm not tying to say it was a good practice or easy for them at all. But I think it's perfectly possible that their parents were trying to do the best for them at the time.
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30-04-2019, 20:35   #9
VirginiaB
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Bannasidhe, that is a powerful story.

In all these cases, t's impossible to know their various motives. There were probably a variety of motives. In the four cases I know of, no one got a farm. And for myself, I'd rather have my immediate family.

This situation came to mind as a good friend's grandfather was a child left behind. His parents and siblings left Ireland for Australia and he was left with his grandparents. When he grew up, and they died, he would have nothing to do with his parents. An uncle in America sent him a ticket to come here and got him a job. He never spoke (wrote) to his birth family again. Nor would he talk about them. Fast forward to now. The Australian cousins have been doing genealogy and DNA. They connected with the American side, including my friend. She just got back from an amazing family reunion in Australia with many cousins there. Good to hear.
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30-04-2019, 21:25   #10
Hermy
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I'm not tying to say it was a good practice or easy for them at all. But I think it's perfectly possible that their parents were trying to do the best for them at the time.
Their parents may well have been trying to do their best for their children but regardless of that the psychological damage done to the child by being separated from their family is going to leave a scar that goes far deeper than mere resentment.
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30-04-2019, 22:01   #11
Bannasidhe
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Bannasidhe, that is a powerful story.

In all these cases, t's impossible to know their various motives. There were probably a variety of motives. In the four cases I know of, no one got a farm. And for myself, I'd rather have my immediate family.

This situation came to mind as a good friend's grandfather was a child left behind. His parents and siblings left Ireland for Australia and he was left with his grandparents. When he grew up, and they died, he would have nothing to do with his parents. An uncle in America sent him a ticket to come here and got him a job. He never spoke (wrote) to his birth family again. Nor would he talk about them. Fast forward to now. The Australian cousins have been doing genealogy and DNA. They connected with the American side, including my friend. She just got back from an amazing family reunion in Australia with many cousins there. Good to hear.
We only found out about what happened my G Grandfather a few years ago due to a genealogy search throwing up a public family tree compiled by one of G G's brother's descendants (who was named after my GG!). He had all the info on GG's family but it was a blank on his descendants - I was able to supply that.

I'm not sure how much my Grandmother knew about her father as opposed to how much she was trying to hide due to the tensions during the Irish War of Independence, her mother being Irish Catholic and her father being English Protestant (albeit of Irish descent), and the fact that she was marrying a committed (Catholic conservative) Republican who fought alongside Michael Collins. Among the tales told was that he was a school teacher who died (this is on her Marriage cert)/ He died in the Boar War/He deserted his family. Yet she named my father after her own father.

Thanks to the research I was able to take my Dad to not only see his namesake's grave - or at least the graveyard he is in, it's on Aldernay and during the Nazi occupation the headstones of British servicemen were all smashed - I was also able to take him to his G Grandparents and Great Aunts grave in Jersey. They all died young of TB. It was a side of the family we never thought we would find out about so it was very emotional for him. He is a very out going sociable man and as he stood there it was obvious how deeply this 'losing' half his family had affected him. He's the kind who travels the world visiting graves - his grandfather's whereabouts was the final mystery because his mother refused to talk about him... whatever her reasons.
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01-05-2019, 12:17   #12
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All this must be viewed in the perspective of the era, not by the child welfare criteria of today. Emigration provided hope, the possibility of a better life, so sacrifices were made. Until c1900 living conditions – by today’s standards – for the majority were appalling and mortality rates for all were high. For example, average male & female life expectancy at birth from 1870 to 1900 was quite constant at just under 50 years for both.*

Social class, urban/rural divide and land tenure also played an important role in emigration. . In rural areas the extended family was the norm, with elderly grandparent(s) sharing the home or living close nearby, so any child would be less ‘lost’ having had a close bond with grandparents since birth. Economic factors could have meant leaving a child behind, as fares increased considerably after the US introduced the Passenger Acts. (Introduced post-Famine primarily to reduce on-board deaths, as sea travel in steerage was a risky business.)

It was very common for part of the family to leave first, usually with the older children who could earn a wage when they landed, allowing money to be sent ‘home’ to bring out others. Many Irish children rarely attended school and when they did it was very part-time – their work contribution was required by the family for survival. This continued until the Irish Education Act of 1892 which made primary education free and mandatory for students between the ages of six and fourteen. Under the early Land Acts tenants benefitted; under the later Acts the labourers got a look-in. Many now had the possibility of an inheritance, rather than being a tenant at will, or one for (usually) three lives.

Emigration of the breadwinner is less common today, but it was frequent and very common in Ireland. Even as recently as 10 years ago after the crash many families were absent one parent; before that in the 1980’s many had to leave for work, and pre-Ryanair a trip home was an expensive affair.

Sad yes, but unusual/infrequent not very.

*There was a slow increase in life expectancy during the early decades of the 1900’s and a ‘jump’ in the 1930’s and 1940’s, due to a variety of factors – discovery and widespread use of penicillin-based drugs, increased spending on welfare, e.g. the introduction of children’s allowances in the 194o's, and the general upgrading of the health services also in the 1940s.
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01-05-2019, 14:37   #13
VirginiaB
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No, my post is about a couple or an entire family emigrating and leaving one young child behind. long-term or permanently. A different matter from those discussed in your post, Pedroebar1.
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01-05-2019, 15:10   #14
VicWynne
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My grandfather was left behind, living with his maiden aunt. I think he was the youngest of the family when his parents moved to the UK, though they had a number of children in England.

As a child I was told that she bought him the house that my father and his siblings grew up in, on the understanding that they'd look after her. I know why bedroom was hers in the house, though she died before my father was born. I'm not use if my aunts remember her....

My great-grandparents and some of the grandfathers siblings did visit and I believe my dad and his siblings knew them a little bit, but I don't think it was that close of a family. I didn't know anything about them growing up - until I started asked question when I got interested in the family history...

Talking to another friend of mine, who's a little older than I am, also a Dub... it wasn't too unusual up to the 1950's for children to be 'brought up' by family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles and their wives) when there were a number of children in the family... It was a way to 'spread' the load/love/work... whatever way you want to see it... His family all lived in the same area so I think it was his brother who was brought up living in an aunts house. It meant he only had to share a bedroom with 1 other brother...
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01-05-2019, 15:38   #15
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Yes, I know of a family who sent one child from Dublin to a childless aunt and uncle in Offaly, from whom he eventually inherited a farm. He never came back to Dublin. But this is relatively recent - probably born early 1950s.
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