Poor Law

Many of our ancestors lived precarious lives and if they grew old and inform could not work or fell ill or bore illegitimate children they may have become a burden on the community.

The parish overseers and later the poor law unions might provide some relief but often our ancestors would find themselves in a work house.

From the Old Tudor poor laws consolidated in the Poor Law Act of 1601 to the New Poor Law Act of 1834 these circumstances generate remarkable records for genealogists.

Many poor law records are transcribed and published and therefore collected by the library and listed in our catalogue.

Many settlement examinations and certificates, removal orders, or bastardy examinations and bonds can be located in the copies of parish records and quarter sessions at the library. You can search our library catalogue and online digital collections on our collections page

Occasionally local philanthropists may bequeath alms or establish charitable support for local people.

Under the laws of settlement which were introduced by the Poor Law Act of 1601, people were only entitled to claim poor relief in their legal place of settlement (ie. The parish where they had been living for at least one month).

After the Settlement Act of 1662, people could obtain a settlement in any parish through marriage, apprenticeship, domestic service for over a year or by occupying property worth more than £10 per annum. Anyone not fulfilling these criteria was liable to be removed to their original parish. After 1697, poorer people had to carry a settlement certificate with them to show that their parish of legal settlement would take them back if necessary.

If they requested poor relief, the parish they had moved to would examine them to see where their legal right of settlement lay. The resulting settlement examination books are a rich source for researchers.

The entries might include details of a person's birthplace and working career as well as the names and ages of dependent children. They may also include details of their recent whereabouts and other incidental detail about their life.

The Settlement examination books for St Martin in the Fields, a large parish in Westminster, have survived for 1708-1795 and 1816-1827. These books are indexed within the Society's digital online poor law records.

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