Poor law records in Glasgow City Archives

​Glasgow’s poor law records are a stand-out in a UK and European context, if not globally.  They are our most popular family history sources. Nothing else provides so much detail about people and society, particularly those whose lives are not recorded elsewhere. The records can reveal rich stories of your own family, an insight into living and working conditions, poverty, crime, drunkenness, illegitimacy, marital breakdown and much more. 

The City Archives holds an estimated 1 million applications for poor relief for the Glasgow parishes, as well as Bute, West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. These tell the stories of individuals’ day-to-day experiences and allow us to make real connections with our families, communities, and the lives of many citizens of Victorian Glasgow.   

Barnhill Poorhouse: the children's ward, c1898

​In 1845 a new Scottish poor law act was introduced to deal with problems arising from large-scale urbanisation and economic depression. This act retained 16th-century principles concerning the relief of poverty, but altered the administration and funding arrangements. The crucial principle that relief was for the destitute and the disabled - not the unemployed - remained. Family members were expected to assist in upkeep.   

These principles required Inspectors to establish the identity of applicants, their eligibility and their needs. This means that the applications provide core biographical information about families, often stretching generations. 

Parishes continued to be responsible for their own poor, known as settlement. This was established by where the applicant was born, married into or lived for a certain number of years. 

Anyone and everyone could apply for poor relief. People’s circumstances changed and, with no safety net, they could suddenly be reliant on poor relief. In addition to the destitute and disabled, you will find a large number of women: married or widowed with children, those claiming desertion and those with one or more illegitimate children.   

The poor law applications are also a goldmine if you are seeking Irish ancestors, with large numbers of first generation Irish applicants. The records often identify their county of birth and sometimes give parish or even townland.  

Find out more about these wonderful records in our guide: www.glasgowfamilyhistory.org.uk/ExploreRecords/Pages/Poor-Law.aspx ​ 

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