Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Forgotten Records of 22 Poor Law Unions

Volunteers around England and Wales are embarking on an exciting project to unearth the often sad and gruesome world of the Victorian poor. Led by The National Archives, the ‘Living the Poor Life’ project will see more than 200 local and family historians catalogue thousands of memos, letters and reports held within the long forgotten records of 22 Poor Law Unions. Ultimately the scanned records will be made available online at The National Archives website.

Local and family historians will be able to search by name, place, date and event, providing a level of detail found in no other records from this period.

From the running of the workhouses, to tales of family breakdown, greed and corruption, these records provide a detailed snapshot of a key period in Britain’s history.

It is estimated that around 80% of people in the mid-1800s would have been affected by the Poor Law Unions. Yet despite their historic value these files are currently poorly catalogued and underused. (More on Poor Law Unions)

Over the next 18 months the volunteers will catalogue more than 100,000 pages of documents dating from the mid-1830s to around 1850.

“While the 19th century saw a huge growth in Britain’s economy and industrial capacity, not everyone shared the material benefits,” says Dr Paul Carter, Project Director and Principal Modern Records Specialist at The National Archives. “These are the kind of records that will help researchers, whether a family historian or an academic, answer the question of what life was like for these people.”

The National Archives, which is funding the current work, is actively seeking additional funding to continue the project through to the early 1870s.

“The raw historical data this project will release will prompt researchers to formulate new questions about this period of British social history, and help them to answer existing ones,” says Roger Kershaw, Head of Records Knowledge at The National Archives. “Furthermore, designing the project the way we have, and working with volunteer editors from around the country, makes this a truly national partnership project and we hope to secure funding to allow us to complete the cataloguing of these records up to 1870.” (continue...)

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