I didn’t know much about my maternal grandfather, Thomas Eveleigh, and had a lot of trouble getting information from family. No one seemed to know anything. He had always told the family that he had come to Canada from Australia.
As a youngster it never occurred to me to ask questions about my family heritage and as a result it wasn’t until after my grandfather’s death that I began to wonder. From 1975 until 2004, when I found him coming in on a ship to Boston from England with a group of Barnardo children, I had searched in vain. I decided to write the Barnardo Foundation to see what information they had to share with me. As it turned out, they had an entire package that they sent to me.
I discovered that my grandfather was one of 8 children -the only one to survive. His parents never married and finding him was complicated by the fact that he lied about his parents names to legitimize his own birth. He had always said his mother’s name was Florence Hodge and his father’s was Thomas Eveleigh. Actually his mother was Florence Eveleigh and his father was Thomas Hodge. He grew up in the streets of London after his father died and his mother had no means to support him. By the time he was twelve his mother decided to give him up and shortly after she died, too.
At the Barnardo school, he was trained as a brushmaker and, in 1902, he was sent to Canada. He was set up in a factory in Toronto. One of the most poignant things that I learned from the records was that he wrote Mr Owens from Barnardos to ask if he would loan him the $2.00 it would cost him to buy a cricket bat and would he please buy it for him the next time Mr Owen travelled to England. Mr Owen obliged. In that one letter I learned that this young man with no family demonstrated a fortitude that I could only wish for. He accepted his life and showed he was going to be positive and strong.
In 1909 he married May Furniss. They appear to have had no children and May died in 1916. He later married my grandmother taking on the responsibility of her three daughters and shortly after they married, they had my mother.
Thomas made a wonderful life for himself and his family, but never told the truth about his background. He was ashamed of his background, as many Barnardo kids were. I am so proud of this man and the life he lived in order to give me the life I have. He was small in stature but possessed a huge character.
It is easy for us to look back on people who came before us and judge. Some of the lives they were forced to live can make us laugh or cry or fill us with disgust. But what we have to remember is that they seldom had the support systems that we have today. They were doing what they had to do in order to survive. They clung to the hope of a better future for their children, just as we do. It is their strength that pulses through our veins. Their ability to overcome hardships that has given us the lives that we have. For those reasons I continue to search to find out about them and in doing so discover a little more about myself.