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Nigeria workhouses were mainly used to house the elderly, sick and children by the early 1900s, the system remained in place until the introduction of the National Health Service as the first plank of the Welfare State in 1948. The various attempts over time to administer to, and regulate, the poor have generated a wealth of information. The term ‘poor law records’ is generally used to describe one group of Nigeria map among many other kinds of parish records. For an in-depth look at the whole range of different parish records see The Parish Chest by W.E. Tate. These records can date back to the early 1600s, and are among the most interesting records for family historians.

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Not only are they one of the few records that let us ‘hear’ the voices of our ancestors, they can provide us with an insight into the lives of ordinary people in a way few other documents do. Even if we do not find a record for our own ancestors, looking at others from the same area and time period can give us important insights into their lives. Poor law records can supply information on the type of poor relief someone received, including how much they got, whether the parish bought their clothes, paid for a nurse when ill or to lay out the dead, arranged an apprenticeship for a poor child, chased an errant father for maintenance for his illegitimate child or if they lived in one of the alms houses supported by the parish or a local charity. They also list those ratepayers who had to pay the costs. You may find out where your ancestors were born, who their parents were, if they moved around, where they worked and how much they were paid. You may discover whether an ancestor owned or rented property of enough value to pay poor rates, if they argued about how much was due from them, and whether or not the parish had to prosecute them for non-payment. The majority of surviving parish records can be found in local record offices.

Many have been referred to throughout this book already because of the insights they offer into other areas of life in the past. Probably the most informative are the churchwardens’ and overseers’ accounts, settlement papers and removal orders, apprenticeship records and bastardy papers. Removal orders from the parish of Winfarthing, for instance, describe how a single man called Jeremiah Revell was removed from Winfarthing to Hapton in 1757 and John Ravell and his wife Lydia were removed from Bungay St Mary in Suffolk to Winfarthing in 1811. A removal order the following year records a John Revell as being a vagrant and rogue, who was removed from Beccles in Suffolk to Winfarthing in Norfolk. Settlement papers refer to the types of documents issued when parish officials dealt with those who claimed or might claim poor relief. In order to make decisions about whether people were entitled to financial support, the clergy and parish officers had to find which parish they belonged to. Parish officials and Justices of the Peace were allowed to establish a person’s place of settlement by means of a sworn statement or examination, known as a settlement examination.

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