Sunday, 27 November 2011

More Records of the Edinburgh Poor

A few months ago I wrote about the Lists of the Edinburgh Poor held at Edinburgh City Archives, which cover the period 1869-1884.  I’ve recently been researching an individual who was on the Edinburgh poor roll at a later date and once again found that, whilst it is true that the majority of Edinburgh poor relief records have been lost, it is possible to find some information about those in receipt of poor relief.

Edinburgh City Archives is housed within the City Chambers
The records I was examining were the minutes of Edinburgh Parish Council from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Edinburgh Parish Council existed from 1895-1930 and incorporated the former Edinburgh and St Cuthberts Combination Parochial Boards as well as parts of Liberton, Duddingston and Leith.  Among the Council’s responsibilities were the Craiglockhart and Craigleith Poorhouses as well as other institutions within the Edinburgh area.
Despite having previously been told that the chances of finding any mention of a particular individual within the minutes was pretty slim, I found that they were full of names; and for some periods names are even indexed at the front of each printed volume of minutes.
The information on children, especially those who were boarded out, is particularly detailed as these examples show:
Edinburgh City Archives ref. SL14/1/7 - Edinburgh Parish Council: Minutes of Council and Committees From 17th June 1901 to 21st Oct 1901. Edinburgh: James Turner & Co., 1902.
Pages 92-93
Children’s Committee.
Wednesday, 9th October 1901.
Joan Davidson, Prestonkirk, taken off roll by Grandmother on 3rd September, and working to Mr Smith, Factor, Whittinghame. Wages 8s. a week.

James Weir, Lanark, ran away on 20th August. No trace of him can be got - supposed to be working. Police to be communicated with again, and if no word of the boy within a fortnight, the Clerk to advertise and offer a reward of 20s.

886, 892C 
Edward Byrne, and David Brown, Gladsmuir. The Visiting Committee recommend a Topcoat for each. Grant.

Mary Douglas, 12, with her Sister in London. Doctor reports her a confirmed Epileptic, and should be in an institution. Clerk to enquire and report as to any institution suitable for the treatment of this girl.

William, Henry, Roderick, and Winifred Young, in Craiglockhart Poorhouse with Mother. Deserted by Father. Advertise for Father.

James Sandilands, in Craiglockhart Poorhouse with Mother. Illegitimate. Delay for a month.
Note: The numbers against each child’s name seem to be case numbers, although any records to which these numbers refer do not survive.
In addition to children, the names of ‘lunatics’, paupers suffering from some illness and whose cases were considered by the Medical Committee and those whose place of settlement was debated are frequently mentioned, often with at least some brief details.
Whilst not everyone who received poor relief will be mentioned by name in the minutes of Edinburgh Parish Council, in the absence of other records they are certainly worth a look and may well provide some explanation of how an ancestor fell on hard times.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A Question of Religion

Last week I made a research trip to Paisley Local Studies Library and among the sources I looked at were poor relief records.
Poor relief records are a fantastic resource often revealing not only why our ancestors had to resort to asking for help from the poor law authorities but also providing details of their births and families.

Paisley Museum & Library where the local studies collection is housed
When browsing a volume of poor relief applications I was particularly struck by the answers given in response to the question of ‘Religious Persuasion’.  These represented a wide range of religious denominations including Secessionists, Methodists, Baptists and Relief Church as well as reflecting Paisley’s large Irish population which included both Roman Catholics and Protestants (some described as Church of England or Episcopalian).
It seems to have been relatively common for husbands and wives to belong to different churches and what was perhaps surprising was the irregularity with which many people appear to have attended any church.  The following are a sample of answers found in volume B57/11/1 ‘Paisley Parochial Board: Statements of Cases’ which covers 1839-1842:
Mrs Archibald Gibson, aged 66
West Relief Church formerly, but never attended nor members for 30 years
Mrs Peter Docherty aged 31
Roman Catholic: self a member and husb[an]d is not
Walter Millar, aged 61
formerly in his younger days, he was a member of the Abbey Cl[ose] Independent
Widow William Cumming, 77
Church of Scotland: Once a Communicant but not so for some years
George Stewart, 40
Church of Scotland: but never has Communicated
Hellen Cavannah, 58
has a disposition towards the Roman Catholic faith; not a Member
Widow Thomas Campbell, 56
Protestant: Once attended but not so for many years
Widow Malcolm Turner, 76
neither herself nor husband were members of any church
It is worth noting that in Scotland, often only the fairly well-to-do were actually communicants or full members of a church (as opposed to simply attending) and it is not uncommon to find that a couple married in a particular church and had all their children baptised there without ever appearing on the communion roll.
However, given these answers, locating these people in any church records may well be a challenge and it is quite likely that many of them died prior to the start of statutory registration (1855).
I’ve often had the impression that my Scottish ancestors rarely darkened the door of any religious establishment.  Given this evidence, I may well be right!