Slum living

The place where a family lived can reveal much about their social situation. Most people rented accommodation during the 19th century, so frequent changes in address may reveal a change in fortunes.

Old maps are useful for ascertaining whether your ancestors lived in cramped conditions and what types of employment were available in the area. Some historical Ordnance Survey maps from across Britain can be seen for free at, and a bigger selection can be purchased from

Old photos of slum areas that were cleared in the 20th century are often found in County Record Offices, and some have started to upload photo collections to

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps online at are colour-coded to indicate the level of want and deprivation on each street. Associated police notebooks also describe each neighbourhood and its inhabitants.

‘Respectable’ paupers who were widowed and too frail to work were allowed to live in almshouses administered by charitable trustees. Some catalogues of papers created by charities and philanthropic organisations can be searched using The National Archives’ Discovery service.

Unemployment and vagrancy
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Illness and untimely deaths
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