Beyond the Internet Week 19: The poor are always with us

It seems to me that poverty was much more harshly judged in the United Kingdom than it was in Australia where it took little for a poor season (those droughts or flooding rains) or lack of family support for people to find themselves in desperate situations. I thought it was one of the great strengths of the Kerry O’Brien WDTYA episode that his family’s terrible living conditions in Sydney weren’t swept under the carpet. It’s probably safe to suggest that people living in poverty in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales were at least as badly off. Their poverty was also perceived to be a symptom of their own mistakes (drinking, bad judgement, profligacy), lack of hard work and ignorance.

So where do you look if you know or suspect your ancestral families found themselves on the downswing of the economy, or if you’ve found them listed as a pauper in the census records, for example?

BANKRUPTCY RECORDS

Yes, perhaps the very poorest would not be found in these records, but they might also be the first clue that not all is well in their world. I’ve found mine listed in indexes, Government Gazettes, court documents and newspapers. Once you’ve located them here, you know to investigate the local or national archives. I plan on talking more on this in another post so won’t go into detail here.

WORKHOUSE

The gateway for workhouse information and records is this site: The Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham. Here you will find background information about the legislation underpinning the implementation of the workhouse system and how they function.  It also offers the opportunity to look at specific workhouses, their layout, a description and perhaps a photo, and surviving records. My McCorkindale 2 x great grandfather, James, died in the Smithston workhouse at Greenock and this website provides a wealth of information about where he would have lived in his final years.  James’s younger daughter,Euphemia, also entered the poor house and died there shortly before him.

I ponder over James and wonder why the other members of the family didn’t take him and Euphemia in. I suppose their commitments to their own children made it difficult. Some had already emigrated, and others have vanished “into thin air”. Perhaps James had dementia and as Euphemia became sick she was unable to cope with looking after him. Perhaps no one cared? Unfortunately the workhouse site suggests some of these records for the Gourock workhouse may be available in Glasgow, but this is uncertain –something to follow up on another trip.

BOARD OF GUARDIAN MINUTES

I don’t know about you but I find meetings the epitome of boredom most of the time, but these minutes are something you will definitely want to look for if you have workhouse ancestors, either as paupers or workers. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that your ancestor has done something to get a mention: been a troublemaker, an emigrant, matron or doctor, or just sat on the Board himself. Certainly our hunt for something, anything on my husband’s ancestor, Irish Famine Orphan Biddy Gallagher/Gollagher was unsuccessful in Donegal…if you don’t try, you don’t know.

While I’ve used these records a little, I’ve by no means had as much experience as I’d like. Some are now available online so definitely worth searching for.  I posted about the Limerick Board of Guardians Minute books last year and some of the migration gems I found in them when I searched the originals in Limerick. My explorations of the Ennis Minute Books revealed references to the seizure of Widow Dynan’s pigs[i] for poor rates in 1850 (what was she supposed to use to support  herself, I ask?) or an appeal by Rev Quin regarding the distress of Bridget Crowe[ii], or the resolution that the Sexton family be given assistance to emigrate along with Conor King of Kilmurry and Sally Clune[iii].  Although I had relatively little time (a day from memory) to review some of these documents, there are many references to individuals. Equally pathetically is the doctor’s comment that there were “380 girls crowded into this room (Dayroom) which is barely sufficient to accommodate 80”.[iv]

It is absolutely critical when looking into workhouse records and Board of Guardian documents that you know which Poor Law Union your ancestor’s parish belonged to. For example, many of the south-east Clare parishes actually belong to the Limerick Union or the Tulla union, while those from the north-east likely belong to Scarriff. If you’re not sure, you can find Clare Poor Law Unions here (click on each union to see which parishes are included) and the survival of records here.

I just happened upon this book called Pauper Limerick:  The Register of the Limerick House of Industry, 1774-1793. It suggests it’s of relevance to genealogists with ancestry from Clare, Limerick Tipperary or Cork.

PARISH RECORDS OR KIRK SESSIONS

Depending on the country, the implementation of the new poor laws will vary but is approximately mid-C19th. Prior to that the parish took care of the local poor (hence the emphasis on settlement issues). So you really need to look at the parish records (not the parish registers, though it’s possible you may find a passing reference there). Check out what’s available on Family Search for your parish, and look beyond the registers.

In Scotland, you’ll also want to look at the Kirk Session records, as it in these that you’re most likely to find some information on your pauper ancestors. I have used the Inishail records and talked about them last year here. One day, in the not too distant future, it appears these will be available online. When that happens I do hope that every name is indexed because while the topic of the day may be about inappropriate behaviour in the parish, you’ll find that when others recall the event they may date it by reference to another’s death or roup, the sale of personal belongings, the proceeds of which for a pauper were paid back to the parish.

It would be possible to talk for hours about my own experience with just this one parish’s kirk sessions. I just loved exploring these in 2010 at the Scottish National Archives, and I can’t wait until they release the digitised versions even if it is my combined birthday, anniversary and Christmas present.

For a slightly different perspective, Susan from Family History Fun has also talked about Scottish poor law records here or this post by Heather Pringle on Edinburgh’s workhouse and her family. Audrey Collins from The Family Recorder also writes on this topic here. No doubt there are many others addressing this issue.

PODCASTS

Audrey Collins from The Family Recorder mentioned Podcasts by Paul Carter which address the issues of the Poor Law and the workhouses in England and Wales. Definitely well worth downloading a few and learning more…I certainly plan to.

Last year I read a book called The People of the Abyss by Jack London describing the precariousness of life for the poor and labouring classes. At times the tone was somewhat supercilious but it did give a good indication of just how desperate life could be for the poor and labouring classes.

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and research into your poorer relations.

If you have already used these records, please share your findings with us.

NEXT WEEK: Orphanages


[i] BG/EN16 Board of Guardian minute books Ennis Union, Meeting 5 January 1850, page 160.

[ii] Meeting 8 January 1850.

[iii] Meeting 24 November 1849, page 53.

[iv] Meeting 13 March 1850, page 288.

I investigates Ireland, Inishail, and Ipswich (Qld)

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which) and today’s post explores interludes in Ireland, Inishail, and Ipswich (Qld, Australia).

I is for Ireland

As soon as I arrived in Dublin in the late 1980s there was a sense of recognition, a realisation of how much like the Irish we Australians are in so many ways…the sense of irony, mickey-taking, disregard for authority. At the same time it seemed unfamiliar because I’d expected the inflexibility and conformity learned from my life in an Australian Catholic school and church with Irish nuns and priests, and a stern Irish-born grandfather. It was a delight to discover that Ireland was full of joie de vivre and craic (good fun) as well as the darker, more morose side with which I was familiar.

Allihies, West Cork on the Beara Peninsula

Without the urge to learn more of my family history I may never have visited Ireland, and so would have missed out on far more than adding leaves to my family tree. Ireland fulfils so many stereotypes that you’ve heard about: the green patchwork fields, the distant blue hills, old stone cottages, the soft rain, and the quirky sayings and greetings that seem quintessential yet somehow difficult to remember when you leave. Coming from Australia with its wide open spaces and vast distances, it’s easy for a tourist to think “ah I’ll get there in no time” but everywhere there are those signposts that can all point to the same place, via twisty Irish roads that only change how much time it takes you to get to your destination. Despite the number of times I’ve visited I still make the mistake of not allowing enough time!

Beautiful Achill Island, Co Mayo. © P Cass 2006.

Over the years we’ve visited 20 counties and each has its own beauty. Despite my Clare ancestry I have to say my favourites are the rugged, more isolated areas: Achill Island (Mayo), Beara Peninsula (Cork), the wide-open spaces in south-west Donegal, tragic site of many evictions, and the steep cliffs near Dun Choin by Dingle (Kerry).

Over the decades as the Celtic Tiger stirred, and then roared, the social atmosphere has changed. There was cash to splash and everyone was busy, busy. There was a brashness to life, in Dublin especially, that I didn’t really like…it had turned into a typical big city (or perhaps I’d got used to living in a smaller city). In the rural areas people remained both friendly and reserved, much as always. The standard of living had improved which made life more comfortable for people…the decades and centuries of disadvantage were slowly being turned around. It’s sad to think that the Irish people are now going through such difficult times.

Wherever you go, there is that essential kindness and welcome that the Irish share with the visitor. It’s a grand place to visit and if you have the opportunity it’s well worth going. Even if the trip doesn’t uncover specific family history, you’ll get a much better sense of the place and its people, and, intuitively, the loss your ancestors experienced when they left it all behind.

I is for Inishail (Scotland)

Inishail is part of the combined parish of Glenorchy and Inishail in Argyll, Scotland. Inishail lies over the hills from Inveraray and borders the starkly beautiful Loch Awe. The MacArthurs and Campbells are powerful in this area, and history abounds. I’m not planning to talk about that here but if you want to investigate further you might find this linka helpful starting point.

Highland cattle near Cladich, Argyll. © P Cass 2006

My interest in Inishail parish arises because my 2xgreat grandparents, Duncan McCorquodale (various spellings) and his wife, Ann Campbell lived there for about 50 years, apparently having moved across the Loch from Kilchrenan parish. They both appear in the 1841 census, and Duncan in the 1851 census, living in Drimuirk. It took some work locating this little hamlet as it’s rarely indexed on maps. My starting point has been the village of Cladich which in its day, was on the drove road for cattle to Inveraray and points south and west. The long haired Highland cattle are still a feature of the area, and of a local estate. In the colder months, when we tend to visit, the clouds hang low, and the mist filters through trees draped in moss and lichen…dimly among the trees appears a woolly Highland cow. It can be kind of spooky.

Drimuirk by Cladich, Parish of Inishail, Argyll. © P Cass 2010

On previous trips I’d estimated from maps where Drimuirk was located, and taken photos, but this time I was given a great privilege…the opportunity to “walk the land” where my ancestors lived. At ground level, and with local help, I could see that what had seemed random rocks were actually the remains of the rude cottages of the long-ago residents of Drimuirk. Of course I have no idea which of the small handful of house foundations was theirs, but I like to imagine it was the one with the view over the loch and where the travellers could be seen coming over the hills. Afterwards I read the Kirk Session records for the parish, and found a reference to the “small house” of Duncan McCorquodale. The reiteration of “small house” suggests that even by the standards of the day it must have been tiny, yet there’d have been half a dozen people living there at times. You can read my post about it here. I’m forever grateful to have been given this chance to see what remains of this little settlement.

Dorothy Wordsworth passed through the area in 1803, around the time my family came to the area to live. She describes the children of the Macfarlane family thus: The children, after having collected fuel for our fire, began to play on the green hill where we stood, as heedless as if we had been trees or stones, and amused us exceedingly with their activity: they wrestled, rolled down the hill, pushing one another over and over again, laughing, screaming, and chattering Erse (Gaelic)…[i]Reading this it’s so easy to imagine my own great-grandfather playing with his siblings in this way.

Genie tip: when searching for Inishail, also try spelling it as Innishail, especially in archive searching, which will add to your results.

I is for Ipswich (Queensland, Australia)

View over Ipswich, March 2012, with St Mary's Catholic church prominent. © P Cass 2012

Ipswich is the place where my Melvin, Partridge, Kent and Kunkel families first settled in Australia. New immigrants would sign work contracts and then travel by boat up the river system to Ipswich from where they  would be dispersed to the most distant reaches of the Moreton Bay settlement, as happened with my Gavin family and most of the Dorfprozelten immigrants who came to Moreton Bay. No doubt the employers were keen to keep them on the move before the immigrants had any idea of just what they were taking on, and how very isolated many of them would be.

Those who came to Ipswich to live and work arrived in a small but bustling town with minimal, but developing, infrastructure. They quickly became part of the social fabric of the community and could, if they wished, make their mark there. William Partridge worked as a carpenter, George Kunkel ran a boarding house in Union Street with his wife Mary and also a pork butcher’s establishment, before they moved west with the railway construction. Richard Kent was an older man when he arrived and remained a labourer as far as I can tell, though he’d run a public house in England. Stephen Melvin arrived later, in the 1870s, and before long was establishing himself with a well-regarded confectionery shop(s) and factory.

My families were on opposite sides of the religious divide with the Kunkels attending St Mary’s, the Catholic church, and the others associated with the Anglican or Methodist churches at different times. Despite this it would have been difficult for the Kents, Partridges and Kunkels not to be aware of each other in such a small community through the 1850s and 1860s.

A well preserved Ipswich home.

One of the interesting things about doing family history from those early days of Moreton Bay/Queensland, is how often you come across someone whose ancestry lies in the same places as yours…not all that difficult when the European population was so small. I wonder from time to time, whether these distant links are part of why we instantly “click” with some people and others, without doing a thing, get our backs up. It intrigues me that much the same thing can happen with people whose names I find bobbing up in the overseas parish registers of my families…kind of weird really.

Ipswich for a long time was a coal mining town and continued to be a place where new immigrants could afford to settle. Ipswich suffered in the 2011 floods, a history which has repeated itself over the centuries. These days it’s throwing off its former social disadvantage and promoting its history, of which there’s a wealth. If you ever want to see fantastic examples of vernacular Queensland architecture, Ipswich is the place to go. Perhaps precisely because it was economically depressed for quite a while, there are wonderful examples of old Queensland homes with deep verandahs, mostly set on stilts to keep them above the flood waters.

I’m looking forward to having more time in the future to re-explore Ipswich and its historical treasures: the churches, the railway workshops, the architecture and the cemetery.

I ships for East Clare immigrants

Irene (1852) [7] + 7 from Ennis; Ironside (1863) [9] and Ida (1864) [9]

A to Z 2012 Challenge

My nod for today is Catherine Noble’s blog about writing. I especially liked “D for Dedication”.


[i] http://www.ourscotland.co.uk/ebooks/recollectionsweek3.htm. Recollections of a tour made in Scotland AD 1803 by Dorothy Wordsworth. August 31st, 1803.

Inishail Kirk Session -Poor’s Funds

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently been transcribing the copies of some pages I got on the Inishail Kirk Session records when I was in Scotland late last year.

In this post I’ll focus on what I found while trying to learn more about my 3xgreatgrandfather’s pauper status in 1851. The Kirk Session Records which focused on the Poor’s Funds are enlightening. It appears that mostly the meetings which dealt with the payments to the poor were held twice yearly at a time announced from the pulpit. Funds were collected throughout the intervening period and were supplemented by payment of banns for weddings and use of the mort cloth at funerals.

What is interesting is to see how long some people needed to claim poor relief. It was also enlightening to see just how tough things were for them. In May 1840 there is a record of the interviews in which people applied for support. For me the saddest one was probably the 34 year-old man who had seven children in his family, all under 11 years of age. He had been in “deplorable health” for more than two years as testified by a medical certificate: not long afterwards he applied for a Certificate of Poverty. The tragedy behind that story and the impact on his family is heart-breaking.

Just as tragic were the elderly whose family could not support them because of commitments to their own families: the 85 year-old man who was so severely handicapped by asthma that he “had been unable to earn a peck of meal” for three years and been confined to bed throughout the winter & spring;  a 67 year-old woman who the records state “appears very helpless” or the man who had supported a brother and sister after his father’s death: both of his siblings had been “of infirm mind” since birth. Truly tragic stories!

While it is clear some of them had been allowed to live in their cottages rent-free, sometimes for many years, there are others which refer to the increased rentals as “so exhorbitant” suggesting a move by the landlords to increase rents – a social change of the time. It is apparent from the context of the reports that it was expected there would be a quid pro quo for this parish support: many mention leaving any “subject” (belongings) they owned to the poor on their death.

There were two levels of support for the poor: one by cash and one by donation, which I assume was a payment in kind. I need to do more reading around this topic to understand it better.

Among those who received payment in kind for some years, were my 3xgreat grandfather and his wife, Duncan & Ann McCorquodale. He first appears in the records in 1841 under his name only, then in 1844 both names are mentioned in receipt of donations. This continues until March 1847. The next time Duncan appears is in December 1848, and it is his name listed. I knew his wife was not there in the 1851 census but this lets me narrow down the time of her death to an 18 month period: 1847-48. I can find no reference to him beyond 1850 though the census is clear he was still alive in 1851 and in receipt of an allowance. By 1861 a Donald McCorquodale is living in the same small place, but there is no evidence to suggest they’re directly related. As each six-monthly Poor’s Fund report is tabled by the Kirk Session it becomes evident when people die, or move to a different part of the parish –all excellent information for family history.

Another interesting report occurs in December 1844 when the Kirk Session appeals to the Heritors (broadly speaking the local landowners) for additional funds as the “state of the Poor is so urgent & distressing”. It seems logical to assume that this was because of the failure of the potato crop –the same Potato Famine which played havoc in Ireland also had an impact in the Highlands.

These documents are only available at The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh and are reference CH2/968/1.

Inishail Kirk Sessions -Scandal & Delinquency

I’ve recently been transcribing the copies of some pages I got on the Inishail Kirk Session records when I was in Scotland late last year. My focus was on trying to dig out a little more on my earliest ancestor in that area, Duncan McCorquodale. I had searched the fencible lists in the Argyll Archives at Lochgilphead without success so decided to switch my focus on whether there was anything in the records regarding his status as a pauper at the time of the 1851 census.

The Kirk Session Records include, inter alia, reports on Delinquency -all the ones I saw were illegitimacies; and Scandal -where there might have been an actual or perceived misbehaviour/breach of church rulings and the Poor’s Funds, which I’ll post on separately.

I was lucky in all these areas. I knew one of his daughters had had two illegitimate children & I found the brief report on one of these pregnancies: all dealt with fairly quickly and without a great deal of fuss, except for the £2 fine payable by the acknowledged father. On the down side it didn’t add much to what I’d already found out in the parish baptismal records.

A Delinquency report on the illegitimate birth of another McCorquodale girl from the northern side of Loch Awe involved various members of my own McCorquodale branch and their families. In the course of this very extensive Kirk Session Report various family connections were mentioned but so were many other residents from both sides of Loch Awe. So even though any given report on illegitimacy might not involve one’s own ancestry, the reports can be a gold-mine of information about other people from the area including their occupations, residences, places of employment. Sometimes people placed the timing of an event in terms of another event eg Mrs Walker late of Annat’s Roup (auction of belongings) or Angus Sinclair’s late at Barcheanvoir’s death, pinpointing years of death for people completely unrelated to the case in point.

The issue of Scandal was also something of a gold mine: the Session focused on a report of inappropriate behaviour by Sarah McCorquodale and a man from across Loch Awe who was visiting at Cladich.

Extract from the Inishail Kirk Session Records CH2/968/1 The National Archives of Scotland

What did I learn?

1. That my 3x great grandfather lived in a “small house” at Drimuirk near Cladich –I had known where he lived from the census but the repeated reference to his small house highlights that it must have been tiny even by the standards of the day.

2. That on the evening under discussion, the McCorquodale family had an Irish pedlar staying with them – having recently seen the surviving footprint of the house, it defies the imagination that three or more adults and one child could live there, let alone have a “visitor” staying there

3. There was a reference to my 3x great grandmother being present at the time, as well as Sarah’s small daughter

4. That my 2 great-grandfather was apparently also present at the Cladich Inn on the night in question

5. That people moved readily back & forward across the Loch for work or socialising, making me feel much more comfortable about the fact that Duncan & Ann’s first children were born on the north side & the last few on the southside. The Kirk Session ultimately exonerated Sarah McCorquodale and the man in question of wrong doing but advised them to be more circumspect in their behaviour in future.

About this point in my reading I thought of how my Scottish McCorkindale grandmother had a habit of watching the activities in the street from behind her curtains –shades of her family’s history in the Highlands perhaps?

These documents are only available at The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh and are reference CH2/968/1.