How to re­search the lives of your workhouse an­ces­tors

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - WORKHOUSE CHILDREN -

There is a wide va­ri­ety of records and other ma­te­rial avail­able for those who wish to trace an an­ces­tor who may have been in a workhouse as a child in­clud­ing The Na­tional Ar­chives ( TNA), lo­cal, county and metropoli­tan record of­fices and lo­cal his­tory and fam­ily study cen­tres.

Records of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the in­di­vid­ual Poor Law unions are usu­ally found lo­cally, but TNA holds the doc­u­ments on their re­la­tions with the Poor Law Com­mis­sion­ers. MH12: “Cor­re­spon­dence be­tween the Poor Law Com­mis­sion­ers and in­di­vid­ual unions 1834-1900”, in­cludes lists of peo­ple vac­ci­nated against small­pox, those who were given money to em­i­grate, and re­ports on workhouse schools from the Poor Law In­spec­tors.

County record of­fices hold Guardians of the Poor minute books, ad­mis­sion and dis­charge reg­is­ters, in­fir­mary records, birth and death/ burial reg­is­ters. To track down the ad­dresses of record of­fices in Lon­don, the rest of the UK and the Chan­nel Is­lands that might hold Poor Law union records de­tail­ing the lives of your an­ces­tors, go to work­houses.org. uk/records/ ar­chives.shtml. You can also search for records on TNA’s Dis­cov­ery Cat­a­logue ( http://dis­cov­ery.na­tion­alarchives.gov.uk).

The Lon­don Metropoli­tan Ar­chives holds most of Lon­don’s workhouse records and can be searched at search.lma.gov.uk. How­ever, An­ces­try, work­ing with LMA, hosts much of this ma­te­rial in its col­lec­tion: “Lon­don, Eng­land, Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1430-1930” – which cov­ers reg­is­ters of creed, school, ap­pren­tices, ser­vants, chil­dren, and in­mates, among oth­ers; and Lon­don, Eng­land, Church of Eng­land Births and Bap­tisms, 1813-1906 which in­cludes reg­is­ters of births and bap­tisms that oc­curred in work­houses op­er­ated by the Boards of Guardians.

Find­my­past ( find­my­past.co.uk) also holds a lot of use­ful ma­te­rial in­clud­ing Lon­don Poor Law records (1581-1899), and datasets for Dublin, West­min­ster, Lin­colnshire, Cheshire, Mon­mouth and Sur­rey among oth­ers.

Free web­sites that are also very use­ful in­clude the Gen Guide ( gen­guide. co.uk). This gives de­tails of ge­nealog­i­cal sources – for ex­am­ple where to find ap­pren­tice­ship in­den­tures, bas­tardy doc­u­ments, vac­ci­na­tion reg­is­ters and cer­tifi­cates, and workhouse records, which could hold in­for­ma­tion about chil­dren who lived in poverty.

The num­ber and type of in­sti­tu­tions that looked af­ter dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren in­creased as the 19th cen­tury gave way to the 20th, rang­ing from or­phan­ages, through to ap­proved and in­dus­trial schools. Each es­tab­lish­ment kept its own ad­mis­sion/dis­charge and other records, with in­mates also be­ing recorded dur­ing their short ini­tial stay in the workhouse. The Chil­dren’s Homes web­site chil­dren­shomes.org.uk gives a use­ful overview to the pro­vi­sion of dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren’s care in the UK, with links to where records can be found.

If you want a book to re­fer to, The Workhouse En­cy­clo­pe­dia by Peter Hig­gin­botham – the orig­i­na­tor of the workhouse and chil­dren’s homes web­sites men­tioned – is a good guide con­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion on workhouse lo­ca­tions, handy web­sites and ar­chive de­tails, maps, orig­i­nal workhouse pub­li­ca­tions and a bib­li­og­ra­phy.

Lastly, to get a real flavour of what it must have been like for your an­ces­tors, visit Gressen­hall Farm and Workhouse in Nor­folk which has just just re­opened its doors af­ter a £1.8 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment.

Char­lie Chap­lin’s workhouse ad­mis­sion can be found on An­ces­try

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