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It’s not just blood that keeps families together – recordkeeping has a role to play too.

Below is a collection of recordkeeping failures that have kept families separated and left people disconnected from their heritage and identity.



Federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 children

Federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after a government agency placed the minors in the homes of adult sponsors in communities across the country, according to testimony before a Senate subcommittee.

Read more: PBS News, 27 April 2018

Biden administration officials tasked with reuniting migrant children and parents separated at the border have managed to reunite just a fraction of the more than a thousand families estimated to still be apart. With little or no record keeping of the separations during the Trump administration, and problems finding many parents in Central America, the task force has reunited just 52 families after seven months of effort.

“We estimate that over 1,000, somewhere between 1,000, 1,500, maybe more remain separated. 

It’s very hard to know because there’s no record,” says the task force’s leader, Michelle Brane.

“It is shocking. And really, what happened was that there was no system in place for documenting separations. So there’s nowhere to go to find out who was separated or not.”  

Because of that shoddy record-keeping, Brane says she can’t even be sure exactly how many were separated.

Read more: CBS News, 7 October 2021


Canada pressured to find all unmarked Indigenous graves

For more than a century, Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families to assimilate them into Canadian society.

In 2021, the remains of 215 children were found buried at a former residential school. Searchers acted on a “knowing” in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation community and located the unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified more than 4,100 children who died while in residential schools, but the true number of victims may never be known because of incomplete or missing records.

Lawmakers and First Nations groups are calling for all former residential school sites to be examined for human remains.

Read more: NBC, 3 June 2021


Four thousand Canadian families broken up

Mary Flaherty was only two years old when she was taken for tuberculosis treatment in a southern sanitarium. Tuberculosis treatment wasn’t available in the Arctic, so she and thousands of others were shipped by the government to sanitariums in Hamilton, Montreal, and other southern cities.

Mary was cured after six months, but it took two more years for her to be returned to her family because no records were kept of where she came from or who her family was. By the time she made it back to Grise Fiord, she’d spent half of her short life in a sanitarium, couldn’t speak her parents’ sole language, and didn’t even recognize their faces.

“Ignorance and incompetence made my sister a stranger in her own family,” her sister Martha says.

Read more: Vice News, 13 June 2014


Spain’s four decade baby-snatching nightmare

Nobody knows exactly how many Spanish women were victims of the baby-snatching industry.

Because it seemed to operate with the willful ignorance (at the very least) of the state, and with the collusion of the Catholic Church, the recordkeeping was abysmal and probably deliberate.

Read more: CBS Evening News, 17 May 2012


Australians raised in orphanages or foster homes may never know their own history

An inquiry has heard poor recordkeeping is contributing to the emotional trauma of Australians raised in orphanages or foster homes.

A state ward trying to piece together their identity was told by the Victorian Department of Human Services their file had been found but there was nothing in it.

Another ward of state was told by the Uniting Church there were too many files to sift through, a Victorian inquiry has heard.

Experts have warned that some Australians raised in orphanages or foster homes may never know their own history because of poor record keeping.

Read more: SBS, 5 April 2013


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