- Introduction: starting the journey
- Where do I start?
- Why are there files about me?
- How will I feel when I look at files about me?
- What is on the file about me?
- Where else can I go for information about me?
- Who can access records about me?
- Can I access other people's files?
- Have recordkeepers learned anything from the past?
- Getting help to find records about you
- Records Services
What to expect when accessing records about you
What is on the file about me?
I had no idea of the actual story, and a lot of the reports I had no idea of. It also gave me a sense of where I had come from. When I read it I was crying because it felt like a story that I was reading, and I did not totally relate it to myself. It was part of my journey to search and find out if I was really the bad person that everybody said I was. It essentially confirmed that there are some people who should not be social workers or in the system. There were little bits and pieces. It was helpful to me because the only source I had had from them so that I could find out about my mother and my father was my aunt. It was a different source to go to so that I could try to put the pieces together of who I was and who my family was.
Everyone's records are going to be different. Some people find that their years in 'care' only generated a few lines of writing. Other people are presented with reams of information (although how much of this is meaningful to them is another story).
The records kept and the information recorded will vary according to the time period when you were in 'care', what sort of institution you were in, the policies and practices of different 'care' providers, and even the personal habits of different staff members keeping records.
In this section, we give a very brief overview of some of the more common forms that 'care' leaver records take, why these records were kept and what they can tell you about the past.
If you were a state ward (or 'ward of state'), there will be some form of wardship records about you held by the Victorian government.
The 'application process' through which a child was deemed to be a ward of state generated documents including court records, police records and records within the government department responsible for 'child welfare'. This example is from 1943:
The earlier 'ward files' created by the Victorian government were in a register format, recording all of the placements for each child. This example is from the 1940s - 1950s period:
Note that if you were never made a ward of the state, there may not be any records about your time in 'care' held by the government. However, there may be surviving admission records created by the 'care' provider/s where you lived.
Admission records – created when a child was taken into 'care' by an organisation or institution – were important to the administration of institutions and other 'care' providers. Even when only very minimal records survive, it is likely that some sort of admission records have been kept by'care' providers.
In many cases, organisations kept an 'Admissions Register' where details of children in its 'care' were entered in chronological order, as each child was admitted. Some of these also have alphabetical indexes, where you can search for surnames.
Other organisations had a printed form that was filled out for each new admission. For example, in the 1860s, the Ballarat District Orphan Asylum had a standard admission form to record the particulars of each child admitted to the institution. Admission records such as these contain information like the name of the child and names and addresses of relatives, and the date child was admitted and on whose recommendation.
The Victorian Infant Asylum kept a 'Register of Inmates' from 1870 to keep information about its admissions. Typical information recorded about an infant included: Name of child; Date of admission; Details of parents or guardian.
The Foundling Hospital and Infants' Home used an Admittance Form to record information about children in its 'care'. The completed forms were later bound in a volume, known as a 'red book'. This system was used for the period 1940 to 1974.
Records like admissions registers often contain information about the child, as well as their parents. They can also give clues about the philosophies and practices of the 'care' providing organisation. For example, in the Scots' Church Neglected Children's Aid Society register, an entry from 1884 includes the judgement: ''Parents: Both living, but drunken and dissolute' .