Long Term Workhouse Inmates Survey 1861 – England & Wales. In 1860 The House of Commons decided it needed to know how many adults had lived in Workhouses in England and Wales for 5 years or more. I haven’t been able to find out why they needed this information, but require it they did. So a survey of the long term adult inhabitants was taken and the report printed on 30 July 1861. Whilst I can’t imagine the information improved the conditions of the workhouses it did leave a wonderful genealogy record for us to research.
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Ancestry has digitized the printed report and has the data available to browse. I think it may be in the process of being indexed, but it is so easy to search that it won’t take very long to find if your ancestors feature amongst the inmates.
The background to the workhouse system is briefly this – the church for centuries took on the task of caring for the poor in it’s parishes. It was funded by a poor rate that was levied against the wealthier parishioners. Help was given in the form of food, clothing, apprenticeships for the young and nursing aid for the elderly and sick. Generally it seems to have worked reasonably well with exceptions no doubt. However in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act came into being and the institutions known as workhouses became the norm.
Instead of out-relief which allowed people to stay in their own homes, however humble, and within their communities the destitute were obliged to go and live in the workhouse often some distance from familiar surrounding. Husbands were separated from wives, children from parents. It was not an option taken up lightly and many decided they would rather starve at home than go into the workhouse.
The 1861 survey showed that of the 67,800 adult population of workhouses in England and Wales 21% (14,216) had been resident for more than five years.
Long Term Workhouse Inmates Survey 1861 – England & Wales – the records
Each workhouse had to provide the following information
- Length of time in workhouse
- The reason why they had been in the workhouse for so long
- Whether the inmate had been in a district or workhouse school
This data-set is the printed report handed to the government not the forms filled in by the workhouse master. So therefore is a secondary source, but is a valuable record never the less and details can be expanded and confirmed via census and workhouse records. It is arranged by county and then by place name of where the workhouse was situated. The inmates are then listed alphabetically, so it is easy to see if a group of inhabitants of the same surname are living in the same workhouse. Confirmation of their relationships to each other would then need to be found through other documents.
Finding an ancestor in this data-set can lead to a variety of other workhouse records which are usual kept at the county archives, but more are coming online so check Ancestry and FindMyPast. I know that Ancestry has records for London and Cornwall and FindMyPast has a large collection of workhouse records for areas in England, Wales and Ireland. There is a website The Workhouse which is a gold mine of additional information about particular workhouse with information on their records and where they are held. CLICK HERE to access The Workhouse website.
I have written about workhouse records before and you might find that post helpful. CLICK HERE to read “Workhouse Records – A Source Every Genealogist Will Want To Use”.
Long Term Workhouse Inmates Survey 1861 – England & Wales – Summary
This rather unusual record is a good example of documents being created originally for a purpose far removed from family history, but being a rich source of genealogical information. If you are searching a number of workhouses for families remember to keep a note of which records you have looked at. Use the Genealogy Project Planner from the MadAboutGenealogy Resource Library to keep track of where you have searched and what family names you have looked for, it is free to download and print-off. CLICK HERE to access the library.
Do go and take a look at this data-set and search the workhouses close by where your ancestors lived, see if any of your family members were unlucky enough to have spent 5 years or more in the workhouse, I know some of mine did. If you find anyone do let me know who and where in the comments below.
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