I recently taught a class at the Family History Library titled “Records of the English Poor.” The class outlined the types of records available and how to access them. One of those who attended was excited to learn about a new collection of over two million records of the poor in London which Ancestry.com, a subscription website, placed online in August. After the class, she went to the website and found the ancestor who had eluded her for years. This was possible because the records of the workhouse were digitized and available online. Although not indexed, they are grouped by place, type of record, and year created. This collection can be accessed for free at a FamilySearch center or public library, or from home with a paid Ancestry.com subscription.
Records of the poor give details on people who received assistance because of illness, old age, disability, or unemployment. These records often contain the names and personal details of the poor in England. The records vary by place within the country and by time period, but often given detail gathered to determine what assistance, if any, to offer the individual or family. These records often contain birthplace, age, marriage details, ages and birthplaces of children, and history of residence and employment.
Recently, the value of these records has begun to be better understood and efforts are being made to make them available to researchers. Some have been microfilmed in the past decade or two, and some have been digitized recently. Two counties are being digitized and indexed through FamilySearch, namely Chesire and Norfolk.
Several organizations in England are also making records of the poor available. For example, part of Sussex is available online, and Lincolnshire has published all settlement examinations and some other records of the poor on CD-ROM.
A great deal of information about England’s poor law system and the conditions in the workhouse, together with pictures of and some details about each workhouse, is available online at www.workhouses.org.