Wiebke McGhee, Archivist from the North Lanarkshire Archives, offers insight into the history of the North Lanakarshire Poor Law records and the value these can have when researching your family history in this area.
North Lanarkshire Archives’ Poor Law records originate from civil parishes which existed within the former County of Lanark between 1845 and 1930. The collection comprises a variety of records including various types of minute books and registers. On Ancestry you will find the digitised registers. The bulk of the records concerns Bothwell Parish, Cambusnethan Parish (Wishaw area), Dalziel Parish (Motherwell area) and Shotts Parish.
Why are Poor Law records a good resource for family history research?
In the second half of the 19th century the growing coal, iron, steel and related industries attracted many workers into the North Lanarkshire area leading to rapid population growth. Therefore the North Lanarkshire Poor Law records include details not just of local Lanarkshire people but also of many who had moved into the area from all over Scotland as well as from Ireland and Lithuania (mainly referred to as “Russian Poles” at the time).
In a time before social security, the Poor Law system was the main administrative system to help a family or individual through difficult times and was therefore widely used. Poor Law records are a rich source of information which can help take your research further at any stage of your family history research. They can give you an insight into the wider family of an ancestor and a history of their domiciles. In addition, they can make you appreciate difficult circumstances in your ancestors’ lives and thus can help ‘flesh out’ a family history by adding details of the life of an individual ancestor. Be prepared that reading the records can be a very moving experience, too!
Poor Law records
The Poor Law records held at North Lanarkshire Archives were created under the Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845 which established Parochial Boards charged with the distribution of poor relief. The Parochial Boards became Parish Councils in 1894. The main records of interest to family history researchers were those kept by the Inspectors of Poor, the official appointed in each parish to investigate cases of poverty and to pay out relief. These were the Registers of Poor and the Record of Applications for Relief. As the application and registration system involved a type of means-testing which required detailed information about the person applying for relief and about their family, the resulting records can contain details of your ancestor you would not find together on one page anywhere else.
Registers of Poor / later General Registers of Poor
Initially, each parish maintained a Register of Poor. For each person admitted to the poor roll, the register gives the name, address, marital status, age, birthplace, occupation, any disabilities, financial circumstances, and a record of the decision by the parochial board as to how the case was to be dealt with. In 1865, a new General Register of Poor was introduced. The main change was that all references to an individual were to be placed on the same form. This resulted in forms which can read like short biographies of a person, with details about any contacts with the system over a period of a year or even decades. In addition, the names, ages, and earnings of a husband or children and of brothers or other relatives if relevant are also recorded.
Example entry from a General Register of Poor (Dalziel Parish)
You can see an example from a General Register of Poor from Dalziel Parish below. It regards Mary Doyle or Slamin who first applied for poor relief when her husband was ill and then stayed in the system for several years after he passed away. The document shows at the top her circumstances at the time of her acceptance into the system and in the bottom part what happened to her and her children while she received money from the parish.
Registers of Poor/General Registers of Poor digitised:
CO1/23 Bothwell Parish
Bothwell Parish Council. Register of poorhouse inmates. 1905 – 1909
Bothwell Parish Council. Children’s separate register. 1909-1915
Bothwell Parish Council. Register of guardians. 1909-1915
Bothwell Parish Council. Register of other parish poor. 1912-1914
Bothwell Parish Council. General Register of Poor. 1894-1915
Bothwell Parochial Board. General Register of Poor. 1862-1888
Bothwell Parochial Board. Account, charge and discharge, and list of registered poor. 1892-1896
CO1/26 Cambusnethan Parish
Cambusnethan Parochial Board. Register of Poor. 1863 – 1864
Cambusnethan Parish Council. Register of other parish poor. 1885 – 1915
CO1/37 Dalziel Parish
Dalziel Parish Council. Registered poor pay roll. 1893-1912
Dalziel Parish Council. General Register of Poor. 1883-1892 and 1900-1916
CO1/54 Shotts Parish
Shotts Parochial Board. Register of Poor. 1846-1865 and 1871-1879
Shotts Parish Council. General Registers of Poor. 1870-1911
Applications for Relief
Application Registers contain more entries per year than the Registers of Poor as multiple applications from individual paupers are recorded as well as details of the so-called ‘casual poor’, who were persons who were relieved by the inspector without a decision by the board and therefore not recorded on the poor roll.
The applications for poor relief recorded the main information the Inspector of Poor required to make a decision on the applicant. These included:
• Date and hour of Application
• Name of Applicant for Relief (Residence – Rent – Application made by)
• Religion (Prot. – R.C.)
• Average Value of Earnings per week
• Names of Dependants and Children living with Applicant, and Ages and Earnings
• Names of Children not living with Applicant (Ages – Residences – and Earnings)
• Country of Birth (English, Irish, Foreign – or Parish if Scotland)
• Condition (Married – Single – Widow – Widower – Orphan – Deserted – Separated)
• Cause of Disablement, whether Wholly or Partially
• Wholly or Partially Destitute
• Name of Parents and circumstances if alive
• Length of Residence in present House and of previous Residences (Settlement – Parishes claimed against &c.)
• Result of Application
• If refused, Ground of Refusal
• If admitted, Folio of Register
A field of particular interest is often the Country of Birth field as, especially regarding Irish ancestry, not only Ireland is stated but also the County. Also the information regarding residence (which was required to determine which Parish had to pay for the pauper’s relief) can give you further clues regarding where an ancestor’s life events may have occurred. The names of children listed may include offspring that did not appear in Census records.
Application registers digitised:
CO1/23 Bothwell Parish
Bothwell index to registers of applications. 1900-1914
CO1/26 Cambusnethan Parish
Cambusnethan applications for relief. 1855-1916
CO1/37 Dalziel Parish
Dalziel application registers. 1865-1875 and 1877-1917
Only one item specifically dealing with poorhouse residents has been digitised which is the New Monkland Parish Poorhouse register of inmates, 1849 – 1862 (CO1/50/24).
There were several other poorhouses in North Lanarkshire whose specific registers have not survived. However, you may find that your ancestor was sent to the poorhouse (indoor relief), rather than receiving outdoor relief, from their entries in the Application Registers and General Registers of Poor.
The following poorhouses existed in North Lanarkshire:
• Cambusnethan (from 1863 in combination with Dalziel (until 1903), from 1865 with Shotts and Bothwell)
• Dalziel (from 1903)
• New Monkland (from c. 1849)
• Old Monkland (from 1861)
• Omoa (from 1865 – same as Cambusnethan which was renamed Omoa in 1903)
You can find out about their history and conditions within from the website http://www.workhouses.org.uk
In addition, within North Lanarkshire Archives we have records which can give you an insight into the running and on occasion the daily occurrences in poor houses, e.g. Omoa Combination Poor House minute books (1903 – 1930), Dalziel Council Parish Council minute books of Poorhouse Committee (1905 – 1930), New Monkland Poorhouse Governors’ journal (1871 – 1930), New Monkland Poorhouse report books of offences and punishments (1862 – 1930), New Monkland Parochial Board minute books of Poor House Committee (1863 – 1924), New Monkland Parochial Board scroll minute books of Poor House Committee (1867 – 1908 and 1913-1924).
Please contact HeritageCentre@culturenl.co.uk if you have any questions.