Peter's Viewpoint

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The Threads of Feeling Exhibition

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Family history from a piece of fabric as evidence.

The Threads of Feeling exhibition is an incredible story about children being left at what was called a foundling hospital but which in actuality was a children's home that became an adoption center for those that were left with a promise of cloth to be reconnected to their mothers again.

I managed to see the exhibition at the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The exhibit ran for a full year and was the only presentation offered in the US and has now returned to London.

This remarkable and touching display was organized by John Styles and The Foundling Museum. It brings to life the stories of mothers and children separated by circumstance.  During the mid-18th century, mothers left their babies at London’s Foundling Hospital with the purposes of being able to work or start a new life in the new world.

The number of children that were processed was greater than 16,000 of which only 152 came back to get their children.

When mothers brought their babies to the London Foundling Hospital, they were asked to leave behind a token: a scrap of fabric, a ribbon, a button, anything to distinguish one child from the next. Each token was carefully preserved with a description of what the child wore upon entering the hospital, to assist in a reunion if the mother should ever return.  They left their children at the Hospital and retained a small piece of cloth or fabric as a token and a means of identification. Each scrap of material reflects the life of a single infant and that of its absent parent and many included a letter due to the assumption that it may have taken years to rejoin the family.

These records were collected into booklets and were meticulously maintained over the years, so that we can now witness a glimpse into the lives of these young children from hundreds of years ago.

The story about the Threads of Feeling Exhibition.

A slideshow depicting the stories with images of the cloth that became a genealogical record.

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