Poor Law Records

Before the days of Social Security, those in need were required to apply to their local parish for help. Those who were old, ill or were unable to work because of young children asked the parish for relief. This relief came in many forms and could include money, admittance to the poor house, coals or in some cases even whisky!

The archives hold a great number of records relating to those who claimed poor relief from the parishes in East Lothian. While there are mentions of paupers and beggars throughout the records, the two main types of poor law records cover the period 1845-1930. These are the Registers of the Poor and the parish minutes.

East Linton Poorhouse by J T Knight

General Registers of the Poor

To establish the needs of the applicant and their eligibility, Inspectors of the Poor recorded large amounts of personal data in registers of applications or ‘General Registers of Poor’.

Applications and General Registers will normally include:

  • name of applicant, including maiden name of women 
  • age, sometimes with actual birth date
  • birthplace, including county of birth
  • religion
  • dependants, including children’s names, ages, places of birth
  • marital history 

The archives hold these applications for the following parishes:

  • Dunbar
  • Innerwick
  • Oldhamstocks
  • Prestonkirk
  • Whitekirk

Our magnificent team of volunteers have worked hard to transcribe and index the records. You can search the index to the applications here. What you will see is only some of the information we have. We will also be able to provide information on the rest of the family, marital status and occupation.

Parish minutes

From the above list you will see that there are a good number of parishes where these General Registers do not survive. All is not lost however as other records particularly minute books, may assist. The minutes detail people who apply for poor relief and often give information about their lifestyle and family. We hold minute books for most of the parishes in the County.

Again our team of volunteers have created indexes for many of these volumes so if you think your ancestor may have applied for poor relief then please visit us or get in touch and we will see what we can find.