During the 1500s, the ecclesiastical parish took over local government from the manor. Parishes did their work through the local vestry (town council) and the Justice of the Peace. From 1572, the vestry appointed one or two overseers (depending on the size of the parish) for a one year term. Because they were unpaid, these administrators were from what we would call the middle or upper classes.The job was a complicated balancing act between deciding who needed assistance and the taxpayers’ ability and willingness to pay. Through it all, they kept good records of their work which allows us to see who paid rates and the assessment of their property values and who received assistance…how much, for how long and why.
In 1834, the philosophy of how to assist the poor changes. Workhouses become universal. Little relief is available to anyone who will not live in the workhouse. The administrators are now called guardians but their balancing act is much the same.The LDS Family History Library and www.familysearch.org are the best places to find copies of rate and account books generated by any poor law officials.