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Poor Law Records (Scotland)

Nature of Source

Records from those in receipt of poor relief. A Poor Law had been in existence since 1579 and was based on voluntary donations from sources such as church collections, seat letting charges and charitable donations. Kirk Session and the heritors were responsible for overseeing poor relief so the session minute books and the heritor accounts should show details of payments made to the poor. Persons in receipt of poor relief should also be shown on the parish poor rolls. Increasing urbanisation and a decline in the influence of the Kirk led to problems administrating poor relief.

The Poor Law Act (Scotland) of 1845 reformed the arrangements. The Act created a central Board of Supervision in Edinburgh which granted the poor payments, delivered at parish level by parochial boards and by parish councils from 1894. Therefore, poor relief records might continue to appear amongst heritor accounts and Kirk session records. After 1894 elected parish councils took over responsibility for poor relief. The Board of Supervision were obliged to compile a general register of the poor which carried a detailed description of the pauper. Poorhouses were established and unlike England, inmates were not put to work.

The records can be useful for researching Irish immigrants who arrived in Scotland following the potato famine in the late 1840s and early 1850s. After 1921 separate registers were kept of those needing poor relief and those needing some form of unemployment benefit. Some people were forcibly removed to their parish of settlement to avoid paying relief.

Other Scotland Resources
Census Returns
Clan & Tartan Records
County & Local Histories
Court Records
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers or Burgess Rolls
Emigration Records
Hearth Tax
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals
Kirk/Church Sessions
Land Tax Assessments & Returns
Maps & Gazetteers
Militia Lists
Monumental/Memorial Inscriptions
Newspapers, magazines & journals
Old Parish Registers-Baptisms (OPRs)
Old Parish Registers-Burials (OPRs)
Old Parish Registers-Marriages & Proclamations (OPRs)
Passenger Lists
Pedigrees and Family Histories
Registers of Deeds (Books of Council and Session)
Retours of Services of Heirs
Sasines, Registers of
Statistical Accounts of Scotland
Statutory Registration-Birth
Statutory Registration-Death
Statutory Registration-Marriage
Surname Origins and Distribution
Valuation Rolls & Stent Rolls
Wills/Testaments and Inheritance

Where Found

ScotlandsPeople Centre (The ScotlandsPeople Centre is the official government resource for family history research. Pauper records can be found amongst various series including heritor minutes and kirk session records for the Old Poor Law and parochial boards records for counties in East Lothian, Midlothian and Wigtownshire and parish councils records for the New Poor Law. ScotlandsPeople Centre is a partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland and General Register Office for Scotland)
Mitchell Library, Glasgow (Indexed copies of Glasgow poor relief applications and other items such as the original applications, photos, illustrations, plans, maps and books)
Edinburgh City Archives (Lists of poor relief recipients, lunatic asylum records and workhouse records)
Aberdeen City Archives (Poor Relief Records)
County Record Offices & local libraries (Kirk Session minutes, heritor's minutes, parochial board records)

Period Covered

1759 - 1930

Genealogical Value

Applicant’s name, resident address, place of birth, condition (married/single), age, occupation and religion; Date and place of marriage; Parent’s names; Names and ages of dependants and names of children not dependant; Date of application, date of inspector's visit to applicant, previous applications and reasons if refused.

Most of the more detailed information is recorded in the post 1845 records.

Further References

Poor Law Specific  
Cage, R.A. The Scottish Poor Law 1745-1845: Scottish Academic Press, 1981 Buy Now on Amazon
Lamond, Robert Peel. The Scottish Poor Laws: Their History, Policy and Operation: W. Hodge, 1892 Buy Now on Amazon
Lindsay, Jean. Scottish Poor Law: Arthur Stockwell, 1975 Buy Now on Amazon
MacKay, George A. Practice of the Scottish Poor Law: William Green & Sons, 1907 (Also available to read online at the Internet Archive) Buy Now on Amazon
Mitchison, Rosalind. The Old Poor Law in Scotland: The Experience of Poverty, 1574-1845: Edinburgh University Press, 2000 Buy Now on Amazon
Family History Guides  
Adolph, Anthony. Tracing Your Scottish Family History: Collins, 2008 Buy Now on Amazon
Bigwood, Rosemary: The Scottish Family Tree Detective: Tracing Your Ancestors in Scotland: Manchester University Press, 2007  Buy Now on Amazon
Clarke, T. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: The Official Guide: Birlinn, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Cory, Kathleen B. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Scottish Genealogy: The History Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Documents for Genealogy & Local History: The History Press, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of Scottish Ancestry: Phillimore, 1983  Buy Now on Amazon
Holton, Graham & Winch, Jack. Discover Your Scottish Ancestry: Internet and Traditional Resources: Edinburgh University Press, 2009 (Preview available from Google Books)
 Buy Now on Amazon
James, Alwyn. Scottish Roots: From Gravestone to Website: The Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: Luath Press, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Maxwell, Ian. Tracing your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2009  
Paton, Chris. Researching Scottish Family History: The Family History Partnership, 2010  Buy Now on Amazon
Stewart, Alan. My Ancestor was Scottish: Society of Genealogists, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Tovey, Helen. My Scottish Ancestry: Lomond Books, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Concise Scots Dictionary: Edinburgh University Press, 1999 (Preview available from Google Books) Buy Now on Amazon
Lynch, Michael. Oxford Companion to Scottish History: OUP Oxford, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Moffat, Alistair & Wilson, James. The Scots: A Genetic Journey: Birlinn, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Richards, Eric. The Highland Clearances: Birlinn, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Scots Dictionary: Collins, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Timperley, Loretta R, (ed). A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland c 1770: Scottish Record Society, 1976 Buy Now on Amazon
Torrance, Richard D. Scottish Trades, Professions, Vital Documents & Directories: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1998 Buy Now on Amazon

Websites (National Records of Scotland: Research Guides: Poor Relief Records) (Scottish Archive Network: Poor Relief Records) (Scottish Archive Network: The Poor Law in Scotland after 1845)
(Poor Relief Registers) (My Ain Folk: Scottish Genealogy Resources: Records of the Scottish Poor. His guide lists poor rolls, registers of poor, volumes of poor relief applications and various other records containing lists of paupers for parishes in Scotland) (The Workhouse in Scotland) (Scotland Poor Law Records and Genealogy Research) (Poor Relief Records)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including the Scottish Archive Network) (Dumfries Poor Board Minutes) (Friends of Dundee City Archives: The Dundee Poorhouse Records. Index of all the inmates who passed through or died within the Dundee Poorhouse  from its inception to its demise)
(Stirling Council Archives: Poor Relief Indexes, 1814-1934. Search online for ancestors who may have appealed to their Parish for assistance. The indexes cover 14 Parishes in the Stirling Council area) (St Cuthbert's Parochial Board Pauper's Claims Index: An Index to the Paupers Claims within St Cuthbert's Parochial Board collection held at Edinburgh City Archives) (Ayrshire-Roots: Ayrshire Poor Relief Database) (Index searches compiled from poor relief records covering Lanarkshire, including Glasgow City and Govan)