Saturday, 11 April 2009

They will all starve together

During last Tuesday's visit to TNA at Kew I took the opportunity to attend one in a regular series of presentations, many of which I've blogged when they become available as podcasts.

Admission is by free ticket, but the room with seating set out for 66 was only a bit over half full, with room for a few extra chairs, so turning up at the last minute didn't seem to be an issue. That may not be the case for the best known speakers.

The topic was "They will all starve together .. pauper records for England and Wales 1834 - 1900." The speakers were Paul Carter and Natalie Whistance.

The first part of the presentation was an explanation of the Poor Law system, with emphasis on the reformed Poor Law after 1834. The system was set up with a national Poor Law Commission and Commissioners at Somerset House in London. They attempted to impose uniformity on the locally run Poor Law Unions. This involved a good deal of correspondence between the commissioners on the one hand and the local Board of Guardians and workhouse management on the other. The London end of this correspondence is archived at TNA in the series MH12, Poor Law Union Correspondence, in 16,741 volumes, an estimated 4,352,660,000 words. Local Board of Guardians records, where they survive, are usually found in county record offices.

The presentation's second part went into more detail on the MH12 records. Although every person ever involved with the Poor Law isn't named quite a few are. The difficulty has been that the records are not indexed in depth, but this is changing. TNA is making available online images of the records for local groups to index. The project is a cooperative one with TNA providing training, as well as the images, so that local indexers can benefit from other's experience.

The first Union to be completed is that for Southwell. Several examples were shown including a July 1871 letter regarding a Mrs Amy Freeman seeking authority to send her and her children Mary Ann, Rebecca, Samuel, Emma, William, Adeline and Lydia to Canada where they have family and friends.

The presentation was informative and there were many questions. Some in the audience were hearing challenged and Natalie had to speak close to the microphone which caused some distortion. Paul had a powerful voice and didn't need the microphone, but I wonder how this will play out as a podcast. In the feedback form I put in a suggestion for using over the ear microphone technology and making the visuals available online as well as the audio podcast.

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