Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: UK Poor Rate Books and Apprenticeships

Most genealogists agree that having a poor ancestor is better than having a rich one. With the exception of land records, people who were better off leave only birth, marriage and death records behind while the poor can be found in many ledgers and lists.

Two exceptions to this rule were the poor law rate or account books where the names of the rich who were assessed a tax to cover the costs of poor relief appeared, and records of apprenticeships paid for by the parish, which listed the masters and apprentices.
The ratepayers were listed in the parish account books with the amount they owed and the date the debt was settled. The rich were assessed the poor rate according to their relative wealth so it is easy to see how wealthy an ancestor was compared with his neighbors. The second part of the ledger lists all the relief paid and to whom.

The overseers were ratepayers and had a tendency to keep the rates low. Budgeting was done with an eye to what was being spent in the present year.  A supplementary rate could be charged in cases when a disaster like flood or fire happened. As you can imagine, overseers had a better attitude toward widows, deserted wives and orphans; men who had given good service in their younger days; and the sick. It seems that the concept of the ‘worthy poor’ has been with us a long time.
Overseers probably knew how close to the edge all the parishioners were living, including themselves. They had interesting ways to deal with some situations. A poor widow might be required to nurse someone in exchange for room and board. You will find these women in the census as 'nurse paupers.' In rural parishes, poor children might be placed in service or in farmers’ fields at no pay at an early age.

Apprenticeship was a system for young men to learn a trade, especially one controlled by a guild. It was illegal to practice a craft without serving an apprenticeship. A contract, called an indenture, was signed between a tradesman and the parents. It gave the tradesman money in turn for him providing training plus food, clothing, and shelter for at least seven years. After 1601, overseers and later, guardians were allowed to “put out” many pauper children, since it was cheaper to pay for an apprenticeship than to otherwise maintain a child. When trained, the person would no longer need poor relief.
During the arrangements, two copies of the contract were made- one for the parents or parish officers, and one for the master. Today, the county registry offices have the parish copies, if they exist.  Guild records also exist. The Society of Genealogists in London has a collection of indentures. sog.org.uk

The indentures are worth finding because they will have the apprentice’s name, the master’s name and trade, the apprentice’s father’s name, and sometimes the apprentice’s birth date and place. The father’s occupation and residence is given sometimes as well.
The indenture was usually drawn when child was seven years old for the required seven years but often until age 21. The poor parent of a young child might be against a parish-arranged apprenticeship, which were supposed to be to learn trades of husbandry or housewifery, but were just cheap labor for farms or factories, and as domestic servants.

©2012 Susan Lewis Well

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Parish of Legal Settlement

As Americans, we can live wherever we choose. There is some grousing about poor people moving because a different state has better benefits, but not to any great extent, at least in my locale. For years, England handled poor relief in a way that tied people to a place.

Every English person had a place where they belonged and where they were entitled to poor relief. This place was known as their ‘parish of legal settlement.’ While the economy was agrarian, people were not mobile, and the system worked reasonabIy well. When people wanted to move for a better job or better housing, trouble arose.
If a person was successful and had lived in the new parish a few years before needing help, the new parish was willing to give it, but if a person applied for assistance too soon, the overseers in the new parish were inclined to send them back to their former parish. A Removal Order was issued stating that a family or person was to be returned to their parish of legal settlement. It meant that they were physically taken from the new parish, at least over the boundary line, if not all the way to the legal parish.
In 1662, a law was passed to give officials criteria to determine a person’s legal residence:

o  Someone who held public office in the parish, or paid the parish poor rate
      o  Someone who rented property in the parish over a certain value

o  An unmarried person who lives in the parish more than one year
      o  A woman who had married a man of the parish.

o  A legitimate child, under age 7, whose father lived in the parish
      o  An illegitimate child born in the parish

o  An apprentice to a master in the parish
      o  A resident for 40 days who gave the authorities prior written notice of his intention to live in the parish.
From Mark Herber, Ancestral Trails, page 345
Rules were strictly enforced. By 1800, laws softened somewhat and settlement was less an issue. People could no longer be removed if sick or if just poor, but not on relief. Parish officials or Justices of the Peace could question newcomers.

Records from a settlement examinations or disputes might include the person’s:
      n  Place of birth

      n  Employment or apprenticeship details

      n  Places they have lived over a period of time

If these records exist, they are with the parish records or court records at the County Record Office.

©2012 Susan Lewis Well

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Poor Relief in England

Like people around the world, genealogists have learned about the poor in England by reading Charles Dickens or seeing the movies and musicals featuring his great characters.  The orphans, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, and the Cratchit family from A Christmas Carol introduced us to the lives of England’s poor in the 19th century.

Much earlier, in the time of Henry VIII, the parish was made the center of poor relief. This system with variations continued until 1834.  Records of the parish were kept in a chest for safekeeping. (See one of my October posts for details about the parish chests’ designs and history.) A group of documents kept there recorded the handling of poor relief in a parish – rate/account books, bastardy bonds and apprenticeships. Poor relief was a complicated affair as philosophies, attitudes, and laws changed over time. Dickens’ era was not a good time to be poor in England, if there ever was one.

Before 1834, each English parish was responsible for the welfare of its citizens. People were poor for much the same reasons that they are now – old age; sickness; widowhood, desertion and orphaned children; and unemployment. Some people became destitute wanderers or temporary residents.  The last group ‘temporary residents’ suggests that each person had a ‘parish of legal settlement’, where they were entitled to benefits. This is true, but it is a hard concept for a modern day North American to grasp because we can move wherever we want.
A parish usually selected two churchwardens each year. They were in charge of the religious and moral welfare of the parish, the upkeep of the church itself, the church yard, cottages and charities. Two overseers looked out for the secular aspects of the parish including poor people, but also the roads, bridges and waterways. These officials worked together with the Parish Council or Vestry to assist the poor.

Before 1834, the English called their system ‘out-relief,’ meaning outside of an institution. The poor were given help, while staying in their own houses. Their rent or medical care might be paid for them. They might have been given food or clothing. Young men might be given apprenticeships so they would not be dependent on relief in the future. Men who fathered children out of wedlock were strongly encouraged to marry the mother, if they were single, or provide money for the child’s upbringing, if they were already married. (More on apprenticeships and bastardy bonds in later posts.)
After 1834, the Poor Laws changed radically. Parishes were joined together in poor law unions, and a workhouse was built. In order to receive any kind of assistance, poor people had to live in the workhouse. This system, referred to as ‘in-relief’, was administered by a Board of Guardians with members from the various parishes. In a workhouse, men and women were separated and given jobs to do. Details about the 'new poor laws' can be found at workhouses.org.uk, a very informative web site by author, Peter Higginbotham.

If an ancestor emigrated in the twenty-five years following 1834, you would be well advised to look into the records of the poor.

©2012 Susan Lewis Well

Monday, January 2, 2012

Black Sheep Ancestors

Happy New Year everyone. Let's hope this is the year when we leap some brick walls and finish the projects we have in mind - write the book, create the timeline, or scan and ID all the photos.

One of genealogies first maxims is: "You are not responsible for your ancestor's actions." Sit back and relax. You may find a pirate in your family tree, but who really cares at this time and date.

In fact, there is a great website for those of us with shady characters in our tree - http://www.blacksheepancestors.com/. To quote the site's webmaster, "Here you will find prison records and insane asylum records for the US as well as genealogical prison records for the UK. You will also find numerous links to historical court records, execution records and biographies of famous outlaws & famous criminals across the US, UK and Canada." If you click on 'Prisoners and Convict Search' under the UK heading, you will find some Australian transportees. 

There really is a section of 'Pirate and Buccaneer Biographies.' Clicking on Blackbeard takes you to the Colonial Williamsburg website. www.blacksheepancestors.com is certainly worth some of your research time.

An old favorite has a Prisoner and Convict secton- www.cyndislist.com/prisons.htm. There is a subhead 'United Kingdom and Ireland' and another 'Poorhouses and Poverty' under which you will find 'The Poor Law, Work Houses, Poor Houses and Poor House Unions in the UK.'

In this new year, I will be writing some posts about poor laws in England before 1834. Watch this blog.