Ginny’s Ge­nealog­i­cal Gems

Poor­Houses, PoorFarms andAlmshouses

Serve Daily - - CITIZEN OF YEAR - By Ginny Ack­er­son

Befo r e t he re we re wel fa r e and so­cial se­cur ity, towns and coun­ties of ten had alms houses, poor houses or poor farms that were sup­por ted by taxes and su­per vi s ed by an elected Over­seer of the Poor. Very of ten these facil it ies had the only “med­i­cal” care so people could be ad­mit ted to them when sick, but not in­di­gent. If there were no or­phan­ages then even very young chil­dren were in­mates. Also the el­derly or dis­abled people whose fam­i­lies could not ca re for them of ten ended up in these inst itut ions. People with ment al health is­sues also be­came res­i­dents of these fa­cil­i­ties. Early poor houses were lit­er­ally pri­vate homes whose res­i­dents ag reed to take care of the poor, sick or dis­abled for a price.

Those who were phys­i­cally able were ex­pected to work; laun­dry, cook­ing, clean­ing, farm chor e s , sewing, mend­ing, gar­den­ing; the chi ldren fed chicken s , col lected eggs, gath­ered f ire­wood and any othe r chor e s a s sig ned t o them. Rules wer e s t r ict and ac­com­mo­dat ions were min­i­mal. When the inst it ution was ful l, some people were “auc­tioned off ” for a cer tain length of t ime to the per­son who bid the low­est. The over­seer would then pay the bid­der to house and feed the in­mate dur ing a specif ic t ime per iod. The win­ning bid­der could use the per son for man­ual la­bor through the du­rat ion of the con­tract. The over­seer may also pay for ap­pren­tice­ships for chil­dren and young people with an eye to get­ting them off pub­lic as­sis­tance per­ma­nently. See ex­am­ples at http:// www. poor­houses­tory. com/ his­tory. htm

The types of records that were kept i ncluded admi s s ions , d i s - charges, deaths and buri­als, ac­counts, ap­pren­tice­ships and work in­voices. Records can be found in State ar­chives or li­braries, univer­sity or other spe­cial col lect ions , his­tor ical and ge­nealog­i­cal so­ci­eties, ext racted and posted by in­di­vid­u­als or in in­sti­tu­tional ar­chives. Many records have been de­stroyed be­cause of stor­age is­sues or in­stit ut iona l pol icies. Most of these faci l it ies were shut down by the mid 1950’ s or early 1960’ s when wel­fare, so­cial se­cur ity, Med­i­caid and Medi­care and sub­si­dized hous­ing kicked in.

If you f ind a rel­a­tive listed in the cen­sus as be­ing in a poor house or as hav­ing some disability, you may want to check and see if there are p any records. Some­times you wi l l f ind their death record list s thei r abode as an inst itut ion of some sort… check to see what records are avail­able. These records are full of sto­ries of tri­umph over life’s un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances.

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