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Workhouse Records (Poor Law Unions, Ireland)

Nature of Source

Records from the workhouse mostly relating to those created after the introduction of the Poor Law Unions in 1838. The workhouse system was established in Ireland following the introduction of the Work House Act of 1838. The act created 137 poor law unions administered by Boards of Guardians based on the English system which began in 1834. The Boards of Guardians were elected by the ratepayers in each union. The workhouse staff included the master, matron, clerk, chaplain, schoolmaster, medical officer, porter and others. The records generated from the administration of the workhouse include the minute books, correspondence, accounts, infirmary records, vaccination records, the admission and discharge registers (listing those entering and leaving the workhouse), the registers of births and deaths and the outdoor relief registers.

Levels of poverty were high in 19th century Ireland so many ordinary people were admitted to the workhouses. It is estimated that by the end of the famine, there were 163 workhouses in Ireland, with over a quarter million impoverished people. Workhouse records are important as many of the people who appear in the records would probably never show up in other sources such as land and property records.

Most registers are closed for 100 years. It is also worth looking at lists of inmates of the infirmaries and fever hospitals that were often attached to the workhouse. The lists of births that took place within the building, often illegitimately could be crucial as the event might not be recorded in the parish register or in the compulsory civil records. Other records such as the minute books provide an insight into the day-to-day running of the institution.

See Also
Surname Origins and Distribution

Where Found

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) (Board of Guardians/Workhouses: the records of Poor Law relief administered in Northern Ireland from 1838-1948. Northern Ireland was divided into 27 Poor Law Unions)
National Archives of Ireland (Collections of workhouse records)
The National Library of Ireland (Workhouse papers)
Local archives

Period Covered

1838 - 1940

Genealogical Value

Full name; date of admission; sex and age; status (married, single, bastard); occupation; religion; name of spouse and number of children; address (townland or electoral division); date of birth if born within the work house; date of death; date of departure from workhouse.

Further References

Workhouses and Poor Law  
Burke, Helen. The People and the Poor Laws in 19 Century Ireland: Women's Education Bureau, 1987  Buy Now on Amazon
Crossman, Virginia. The Poor Law in Ireland 1838-1948: Economic & Social History Society of Ireland, 2006  Buy Now on Amazon
Crossman, Virginia. Poverty and the Poor Law in Ireland 1850-1914: Liverpool University Press, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon
Crossman, Virginia. Politics, Pauperism and Power in Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland: Manchester University Press, 2014  Buy Now on Amazon
Delaney, Enda. The Great Irish Famine: A History in Four Lives: Gill & Macmillan, 2014  Buy Now on Amazon
Durnin, Patrick. The Workhouse and the Famine in Derry: Guildhall Press, 2001  Buy Now on Amazon
Gray. Peter. The Making of the Irish Poor Law, 1815-43: Manchester University Press: 2009  Buy Now on Amazon
Hegarty, Pat. Irish Famine Workhouse: A Young Boy's Workhouse Diary: Gill & Macmillan, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Higginbotham, Peter. The Workhouse Encyclopedia: The History Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52: Gill & Macmillan, 1995  Buy Now on Amazon
O'Connor, John. The Workhouses of Ireland: Anvil Books, 1995  Buy Now on Amazon
O'Donnell, Ruan. A Short History of Ireland's Famine: O'Brien Press, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon
O'Mahony, Michelle. Famine In Cork City: Mercier Press, 2001  Buy Now on Amazon
Parkhill, Trevor & Kinealy, Christine. The Famine in Ulster: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1997  Buy Now on Amazon
Family History Guides  

Adolph, Anthony. Collins Tracing Your Irish Family History: HarperCollins, 2007

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Begley, Donal. Handbook on Irish Genealogy: How to Trace Your Ancestors and Relatives: Heraldic Artists, 1984

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Connell, Gretta. Tracing Your Westmeath Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Corrigan, Mario &  Durney, James & Kiely, Karel. Tracing your Kildare Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon

Davis, Bill. Irish Ancestry - A Beginner's Guide: FFHS, 2001

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Falley, Margaret Dickson. Irish and Scottish-Irish Ancestral Research: GPC, 1981 (1962)

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Franklin, Margaret. Tracing your Limerick Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon

Grenham, John. Irish Ancestors, A Pocket Guide to Your Family History: Gill & Macmillan, 2004

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Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: Gill & Macmillan, 2011

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Hamrock, John. Tracing your Roscommon Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2007 Buy Now on Amazon

Kinealy, Christine. Tracing Your Irish Roots: Appletree Press, 2009

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McCarthy, Tony. The Irish Roots Guide. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1991

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McCarthy, Tony & Cadogan, Tim. Tracing Your Cork Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon

Maxwell, Ian. Tracing Your Ancestors in Northern Ireland: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: Stationery Office, 1997

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Maxwell, Ian. Researching Armagh Ancestors: A Practical Guide for the Family and Local Historian: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2000 Buy Now on Amazon
Maxwell, Ian. Researching Down Ancestors: A Practical Guide for the Family and Local Historian: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2000 Buy Now on Amazon

Maxwell, Ian. How To Trace Your Irish Ancestors: How To Books, 2009

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Maxwell, Ian. Your Irish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword, 2008

Maxwell, Ian. Tracing Your Northern Irish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword, 2010

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Meehan, Helen & Duffy, Godfrey. Tracing Your Donegal Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2008 Buy Now on Amazon
Mitchell, Brian. A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Mitchell, Brian. Basic Guide to Irish Records for Family History: Clearfield Company, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Mitchell, Brian. Tracing Derry-Londonderry Roots: Clearfield Company, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
O'Connor, Michael H. Tracing your Kerry Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 1994 Buy Now on Amazon
O'Dowd, Peadar. Tracing your Galway Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon

Ouimette, David. Finding Your Irish Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide: Ancestry.com, 2005

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Paton, Chris. Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet: A Guide For Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2013

Prochaska, Alice, Irish History from 1700: A Guide to Sources in the Public Record Office: British Records Association, 1986

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Raymond, Stuart. Irish Family History on the Web: The Family History Partnership, 2007

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Roulston, William. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors: The Essential Genealogical Guide to Early Modern Ulster, 1600-1800: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005

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Ryan, James. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History: Flyleaf Press, 1997

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Ryan, James & Smith, Brian. Tracing Your Dublin Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Ryan, James. Tracing your Sligo Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Smith, Brian. Tracing your Mayo Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon
Smith, Brian & Kennedy, Gerry. Tracing Your Clare Ancestors: Flyleaf Press, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon

Stewart, Alan. My Ancestor Was Irish: A Guide to Sources for Family Historians: Society of Genealogists, 2012

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Other  
Bradshaw's Railway Map Great Britain and Ireland 1852: Mapseeker Publishing, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Connolly, S.J. The Oxford Companion to Irish History: Oxford University Press, 2007 Buy Now on Amazon
Coogan, Tim, Pat. The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Dickson, R.J. Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1976 Buy Now on Amazon
Grenham, John. The Little Book of Irish Clans and Tartans: Book Sales, 1995 Buy Now on Amazon
Robinson, Philip. Plantation of Ulster: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2000 Buy Now on Amazon
Smith, Paul & Turner, Keith. Railway Atlas of Ireland Then & Now: Ian Allan Publishing, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon

Websites

www.nationalarchives.ie/research/research-guides-and-articles/guide-to-the-records-of-the-poor-law (National Archives of Ireland: Guide to the records of the Poor Law)
www.proni.gov.uk/your_family_tree_series_-_13_-_poor_law_records.pdf (PRONI guide: Poor Law Records)
www.workhouses.org.uk/Ireland
(The Workhouse in Ireland)
http://irishworkhousecentre.ie/the-workhouse-story (Irish Workhouse Centre: The Workhouse Story)
www.abandonedireland.com/Workhouse.html (Abandoned Ireland: The Workhouse: Documenting our Heritage)
http://books.google.co.uk (A Nation in Distress: The Poor of Ireland, by Judith Eccles Wight: Ancestry magazine Jan-Feb 1994)
www.iar.ie (Irish Archives Resource: The site contains information about archival collections open for public research in Ireland from many organisations, societies, political organisations and businesses)
https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/getting-started-in-irish-genealogy/594 (FamilySearch.org: Learning Center Online Genealogy Course: Getting Started in Irish Genealogy. Lecture designed to acquaint beginning genealogist with strategies and sources for getting started in Irish genealogy)
www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/index.html (Irish Genealogy Toolkit will guide you to your Irish ancestors)
www.irishtimestraining.com (Online Tracing your Irish Ancestors Course designed and presented by the genealogist John Grenham. The 11 modules will give you the tools and techniques to comprehensively trace your Irish family history. The online tutorials will provide you with a wide-ranging guide to all the records, resources and research techniques you will need)
www.irishcentral.com/roots/Searching-your-Irish-roots-online---Genealogy-sites-101-128100108.html (A guide to Irish genealogy websites and how to search on them, by Kate Hickey & Jordana Kozupsky)
www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/browse (A county-by-county listing of relevant records)
www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/browse/counties/civilmaps/index.cfm (Interactive map of Civil parishes for Irish counties with a summary of sources covering each civil parish)
www.rootsweb.com/~nirwgw (Information on Northern Irish counties and available resources)
www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/church-records (Irish Genealogy: Research in Ireland: Irish Records: What Is Available?)
www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-genealogical-research-getting-started/how-to-start-your-family-history (Irish Genealogy: How To Start Your Family History)
www.cyndislist.com/ireland.htm (Ireland genealogy links)
www.irelandgenweb.com (Information on Irish counties and available resources)
www.rootsweb.com/~fianna (Fianna Guide to Irish Genealogy)
www.thecore.com/seanruad (IreAtlas Townland database)
www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/placenames (1851 General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, parishes and Baronies of Ireland)
www.libraryireland.com (Library Ireland: Digitised article, Pauperism: Poor Relief in Ireland, by Professor James Anderson. The site offers free online access to a broad range of Irish related material including articles, digitised reference books and searchable databases covering Irish history, genealogy, and culture)

Online Databases

www.findmypast.co.uk (Workhouse datasets include: Dublin Workhouses Admission & Discharge Registers, 1840-1919; Dublin Poor Law Unions Board Of Guardians Minute Books; Sligo Workhouse Admission and Discharge Registers, 1848-1859; Clare Poor Law Unions Board Of Guardians Minute Books)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Famine Relief Commission Papers, 1844-1847)
www.irishancestors.ie/?page_id=5392
(Irish Genealogical Research Society: Index of Townlands, 1901: Searchable database of over 64,000 townlands in Ireland which are ancient land divisions measuring from just a few acres to several hundred and still in use today)

CD Roms

Archive CD Books (7th, 10th, 11th and 14th Annual Report of the Commissioners for Administering the Laws for Relief of the Poor in Ireland, 1854, 1857, 1858, 1861)