Friday, December 7, 2007

Were they in the Poorhouse?

Each of us searching for "elusive ancestors" has to think "outside the box" in order to find the dates, places, siblings and parents of these "brick wall" ancestors. Resorting to "cluster genealogy" techniques, often found in books and the published journals and periodicals, may find some of them with their families in a variety of records..

Usually, however, there are unusual sources that may contain one or more clues to solve the puzzle. They are almost always located in the places where the "elusive ancestor" lived, and it can be a challenge to find them. They may be in genealogy society files, historical society files, a local library, a local business or church, a school or university, or in someone's private collection.

One excellent example of an online source that might unlock some secrets is a Poorhouse register. Linda Crannell has gathered a wealth of information on her web site - The Poorhouse Story - at Read her own story about looking for and finding her great-great-grandmother, Emma Warner Thorn Pinchin here. Linda has a Letter to Genealogists also, detailing what types of records might be in these records, including:

* 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)

While we all hope that none of our ancestors lived in a Poorhouse, it is very likely that some of them did at some time in their lives, and Poorhouse records might unlock your own "brick wall" puzzle.

Linda has a link for the History of Poorhouses, and a page of links for Poorhouses by State. She also has a page of Tips for searching for these records. You might want to explore her web site and see if there are resources on her list that might help you in your research.

Of course, this is not the only place to look. A search of PERSI for poorhouse records in your state or county of interest might be fruitful, and USGenWeb county sites might have a list of Poorhouse records. Historical and genealogy society web sites or catalogs might also have them noted.

A search of the LDS Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) using the keyword = "poorhouse" resulted in 5,454 titles available in book or microform at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (microform are available for loan at a local Family History Center for a fee). You could narrow the search by adding your county of interest to the keyword search.

Ancestry's Learning Center has 24 titles with information about researching Poorhouse records. These articles are free. A search of the Ancestry Database Card Catalog found no use of the word "poorhouse*" in a database title.

In our pursuit of "elusive ancestors," we need to leave no record unopened - and Poorhouse records may be just the resource you need to crash through your brick wall.

My thanks to my colleague Penny B. for sending me the link to Linda's Poorhouse Story web site, and my compliments to Linda Crannell for doing such a wonderful job of sharing her story and compiling all of the great information.

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