Posted by on October 6, 2010 in Content

Since he had left the employ of the workhouse before coming to London, you may not find Oliver Twist in the 1.5 million images we’ve recently added to this collection, but Poor Law records can be great sources of genealogical information.

For many centuries, the task of caring for the poor was left to the Church. Each parish was given an Overseer of the Poor to help with this cause in 1572. Then, in 1601, the Poor Law Act empowered these Overseers to collect a poor rate from wealthier members of the parish, and distribute the funds among the poor.

The 1601 law remained in effect until 1834 when a new law, the Poor Law Amendment Act took over. This collected parishes into groups called Unions. Each Union elected a Board of Guardians, which was then responsible for the care of the poor across all the individual parishes.

Many of our ancestors received help through these Poor Laws. These included the elderly, orphaned, unemployed, sick and afflicted. It wasn’t just money they were given – they also received other daily necessities such as food, clothing and work. Children from poor families were placed in apprenticeships, or sent to particular schools and other institutions. It’s possible to piece together the complete story of a relative’s life, from their placement at a school as a child, through their time in a workhouse, up to their final fate – be it their eventual passing, or an uplifting escape from poverty.

This collection includes a huge variety of different records created as a result of the Poor Laws in London from 1695-1940, all images of original records. They’ll help you identify which members of your family were considered poor, find out what help they received, and discover details of their everyday lives. You can read all your ancestors’ details as they were recorded centuries ago, and pick out the personal remarks of each individual administrator.

Because the records haven’t yet been transcribed, it’s not possible to search for your relatives automatically. Instead, you should identify in which documents your family members are most likely to appear, then use our browse options to look for their details.

Explore London Poor Law Records 1834-1940