Tips on how to find Poorhouse record
the Poorhouse Story

PERSONAL NOTE FROM THE POORHOUSE LADYPlease read this carefully and thoughtfully and creatively!. 
I have distilled and tried to convey here the result of several years of intensive and extensive research into poorhouse records.
This has been done in the hope that this will empower you to be able to do similar research yourself.
The POORHOUSE STORY website will never be able to find and publish on-line all records for all poorhouses.
(I receive many requests each week asking whether I can tell people where to find specific poorhouse records. While I will often be able to make suggestions, you will probably need to do your own research about poorhouses of which we currently have no knowledge. When you find such information, it is our sincere hope that you will share it with other readers through our website.)  Thanks & Good Luck!

                                                                                     "Digging for ancestors is hard work!" -- but FUN and fulfilling.


If you wonder why you should even concern yourself with poorhouse records, you might want to read our LETTER TO GENEALOGISTS.       PHL

1.  Poorhouses were surveyed  for the federal census; we have a special page to instruct you how to look in the census reports for poorhouses.

2.  Annual Town Reports (or similar type reports) can contain a great amount of information about poorhouses 
and about poor relief to people receiving relief while living in the community but not in the poorhouse.

We have published a very detailed article about how these records can be used and what they can yield. We used the reports of the Town of Waterford in Oxford County, Maine, 1892 as our example. We strongly recommend that you take the time to read this article.

3.  Many states established a  State Board of Charities (usually by the 1870s) to administer poorhouses.

You may be able to find on-line references to those by using a search engine;
enter the phrase "State Board of Charities" + (the name of your state).
But your state archives will surely be able to tell you whether such a board existed 
and what of their records are available.

Once such a board was established in a state, poorhouse records became much more uniformly organized. Usually these boards required some standard form for recording the admission, discharge, or death of individual poorhouse inmates.

We have published a rather extensive article about such Inmate Registration Certificates for New York State. Reading about those may help you know what to look for in your own state archives, etc.

4.  We have provided a list of links to STATE ARCHIVES in all fifty states.
(And we try to keep it up-dated! If you find a link not working, please let us know.)

  We have consulted the State Archives in several states and have 
listed the Poorhouse Holdings for the following states:          
Delaware/Illinois/Michigan/Minnesota/Ohio/Oregon/New York/Pennsylvania
(And we hope to continue adding this information for more and more states.)

5.  Expert Genealogical Writers have published guides to records (which may include poorhouse records) for specific states
These have proven to be extremely helpful to me. But I am not aware of all such published guides to records.
So you may need to contact your own state genealogical and/or historical societies to see if such a guide is available for


One of the most useful to me has been --
by Carol Willsey Bell.  Published by Bell Books, Youngstown, OH, 
6th edition, copyright 1995. 

Note: This contained a brief but excellent history of poorhouses in Ohio and also listed the poorhouse record holdings known to her.

6.  During the 1930's and 1940's, WPA INVENTORIES OF COUNTY ARCHIVES were written by 
people who were employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
 These documented very precisely the government records held in various county archives.
They can be wonderful sources of information about  poorhouse records.
Note: They merely establish what records existed at that time, and where they were housed at that time.
(For further information, we have posted an explanation and an example of one state's WPA inventories.)
You can probably find out from your own state archives or state library whether these exist for your county.

We hope this helps!  Good Luck with your Search!

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