This guide was last updated in 2012
If, like Annie Lennox, you find Scottish ancestors who struggled to make ends meet, you may uncover rich records. Peter Higginbotham has compiled a handy guide to get you started.
Despite the Bible’s well-known dictum that “the poor will always be with you”, it can come as a shock to discover an ancestor whose depth of poverty drove them to seek help from the public coffers or, even worse, give up their own home to enter a workhouse or – as they were usually termed in Scotland – a poorhouse.
As was the case in England and Wales, state-directed support for the poor in Scotland dates back to the sixteenth century and there are many parallels between the two systems. In each case poor relief was, for a long period, locally administered within each parish.
In both systems, the emphasis was on supporting the helpless or ‘impotent’ poor, with able-bodied claimants being discouraged or – as was usually the case in Scotland – completely denied parish relief. In both systems, a parish was only obliged to relieve those who were legally settled there – in Scotland, this was through birth or have resided for seven years.
Despite these similarities, Scotland’s separate legal system resulted in a number of significant differences in the country’s administration of poor relief compared to the rest of Britain.
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