Orphans in Dickens’ London never expected to be reunited with their true families. (If they did, there would no such thing as the Victorian novel.) It was not much different in the first decades of the 20th century, recalls Michael Doxie.
Doxie, a resident of Lake George, grew up in an orphanage run by an order of Anglican nuns, the Sisters of Charity, outside London.
He lived there until the age of 14, when he was sent out to fend for himself. At a manor house in the Cotswolds, he stoked coal furnaces and weeded the gardens.
“It was feudal,” said Doxie, now in his 80s. “There was no running water or electricity. I found lodgings for myself in the village and saved enough money to buy a bicycle. I wasn’t lonely, because I didn’t know anything different.”
It’s a good thing he wasn’t too miserable, because the alternative to Notgrove Manor was a sheep farm in Australia. Nevertheless, Doxie moved on within a couple of years to the Rootes Group, the manufacturer of the Sunbeam automobile, and then to a shoe factory.
A chance encounter with an American executive while serving in the Royal Air Force led to a job and a career with A.C. Neilsen in the states, primarily in the Albany area. There, he and his London-born wife Dorothy raised their sons, were active in the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany and eventually moved to Lake George
A conversation with a neighbor in Florida in 2013 led to the discovery that he did, in fact, have a family in England, one which he would not only find but meet.
“My neighbor knew I was an orphan and she asked me if I knew anything about my birth parents. People had asked me in the past if I was interested in finding them, but my feeling was, my mother and father didn’t want me; why should I bother with them?” said Doxie.
The neighbor, an amateur genealogist, offered to chart his origins, and without any unreasonable hopes or expectations that she would discover much, he agreed.
He soon learned that everything had an explanation and that things that can be excused after the passage of years are often in need of excuse. In other words, his family was no different than many other families.
His mother, he discovered “was a troubled person.”
She and her husband, the man whose last name he bears, emigrated to Montreal in 1921, where they had two sons, Michael and an older brother. “They wanted to raise their first son but not me? I didn’t understand that,” said Doxie.
His mother began returning to England somewhat frequently and on one of her passages across the Atlantic, she appears to have met the man who was Michael’s biological father.
The Doxies divorced in 1937, and by then, his mother had already had three sons with the other man. He turned out to have been a purser aboard trans-Atlantic passenger ships. “I believe she had an affair with him,” said Doxie. “They later married.”
When he was a child, his mother was living within three miles of the orphanage with her new family, he learned. He also learned that two of those sons had survived, and in July, 2013, he flew to England to meet them. “It was very emotional; they accepted me as a brother, as the senior member of the family. I’ve felt loved by the entire family every since,” said Doxie.
One affecting moment came when he received an email from one of his brother’s daughters that began, “Dear Uncle Michael.”
“That was so wonderful to read,” he said.
And so, after a life deprived of much of what most people take for granted, an extended family, he has one. “I don’t think this could been done without the internet,” said Doxie. “It certainly wouldn’t have been as successful, or taken as little time as it did.”
Now, if only Oliver Twist had had internet access.
Photos, from above: Michael Doxie reunited with his family; Nothrove Manor; and Doxie in The Royal Airforce.
A version of this story was first published in the Lake George Mirror.