Not an Orphan After All . . .

For this post, I thought I’d share the story of my great grandfather, George Carter.  My interest in genealogy was kindled when I heard that my grandmother (Nanny P.) was looking for information about her father, George Carter.  He hadn’t told her much about his childhood, only saying that he was an orphan who grew up in an orphanage.  Nanny P. wanted to know more about his background and so I set out to see what I could find.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was not an orphan at all.  I’m not sure what’s sadder though, growing up in an orphanage after your parents die?  Or growing up in an orphanage when your parents are still alive?

George Carter (Nanny P.’s father) was born in 1899 to Thomas Carter and Elizabeth Mason.  Thomas and Elizabeth were originally from Staffordshire, but by the time George was born, they were living in Stockton-On-Tees.  The 1901 census shows Thomas and Elizabeth living in a two-room house at 8 Charlton Street with George, George’s older siblings (Thomas, Ellen, and Elizabeth) and George’s younger brother (Samuel).   Older half-sister, Naomi Downes, who shows up on a previous census, is not living with the family in 1901.  I haven’t yet figured out where she is.


The Carter Family – 1901 Census

By  1911, George’s family has fallen on tough times.  George and his brother Samuel are living in a cottage home (an orphanage) on Hartington Road with fifteen other boys, under the care of a Miss Pamela Smelt.


George (and his brother Samuel) – 1911 Census

(As an interesting aside, one of the boys living in the orphanage with George and Samuel is William Stewart.  He’s listed directly below Samuel and he was killed in World War I; his life is memorialized on the very poignant 1,245 Sunflowers website.)

Where is the rest of George’s family while he and Samuel are living in the orphanage?  Well, their mother is in the workhouse and their father is a lodger in the home of a Mr. James MacDonald.


Elizabeth Carter (George’s mother) – 1911 Census


Thomas Carter (George’s father) – 1911 Census

I didn’t find any trace of George’s older sisters (Naomi, Ellen, and Elizabeth) in the 1911 census; while searching for them, however, I discovered a five-year-old “Margaret Carter” listed as an “inmate” at another orphanage in Stockton-on-Tees.  Another sibling perhaps?  I emailed Stockton Archives and, sure enough, she is George’s little sister.


Margaret Carter (George’s sister), 1911 Census

I also located older brother, Thomas, who by 1911 had joined the Durham Light Infantry and was stationed at Colchester, Essex.


Private Thomas Carter (George’s brother) – 1911 census

George’s family, then, was definitely scattered far and wide by 1911.  Unfortunately,  worse was yet to come:  his older brother, Thomas, was killed while serving with the 2nd Durham Light Infantry at Colchester on August 13, 1913. What a great deal of hardship and adversity the family had to deal with.

George’s tragic family story leaves me with lots of questions about him and his family.  What precipitated them all being split asunder?  Did George know his parents were still alive or did he truly think he was an orphan?  Did George know that he had a younger sister or was he already in the orphanage when Margaret was born?  And did George ever reunite with all his surviving siblings?


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