Letter to genealogists
the Poorhouse Story
Letter to Genealogists


Dear Famliy Historian
Most of us do not expect to find any ancestors on the rolls of poorhouse inmates. We never even think of such a possibility -- probably because of inaccurate stereotypes. But in the 19th century, poorhouses served a vast array of people, many for only a short time.

  • Homeless Families
    (who may have been burned out or flooded out of their homes)
  • Destitute Families
    (who, for a time, could not afford to buy food, clothing or fuel)
  • Victims of Domestic Abuse
  • Unwed Mothers
  • Orphans
  • Elderly People
    (who were frail or ill and had nobody to care for them)
  • Seasonally Unemployed Workers
    (who often were single men needing housing for the winter)
  • Occupationally Injured Workers
    (who often worked in factories or on the canals or roads, or as lumbermen, etc.)
  • Handicapped People
    (mentally ill, mentally retarded, blind, physically handicapped)
  • Sick People
    (who had no money for treatment and may have suffered temporarily from the frequent epidemics of contagious diseases or from chronic diseases)
These may be the people hiding behind your "brick walls"! That "paper trail" you have been following to track your roots may have passed these people by.

Often poor people are largely undocumented -- especially those who were highly mobile and not homeowners. The census may have passed them by. They usually did not vote or pay taxes or serve on juries. There was no estate to settle and no need for a will. They may not have attended any church regularly enough to show up in church records. Even those whom you have been able to track only through the census may suddenly disappear with no record of their death.

These people may show up on the rolls of poorhouses. (That's where I finally found my great great grandmother. Click if you want to read the story.)

As family genealogists we are all aware how much we have been beholden to the kindness of strangers.

PLEASE share with us any knowledge you may have of other poorhouse records. Just e-mail to let us know what you have found.

Best Wishes on Your Searches,
The Poorhouse Lady
(aka: Linda Crannell)

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