What's online?

Few workhouse records are online so the best place to start is often the County Record Office local to the institution. You will need to know roughly when your ancestor was in the workhouse and, if it was after 1834, which Poor Law Union their parish belonged to.

The Workhouses website www.workhouses.org.uk is the best place to go online to find out about the history of a particular workhouse or Poor Law Union, with plenty of old pictures and maps. It also has some information about the record holdings for particular institutions.

Those Poor Law documents that have been digitised will mostly be found amongst large regional collections on websites like Findmypast.co.uk and Ancestry.co.uk. For example, Ancestry has online collections from the London Metropolitan Archives, including London Poor Law records. It also has similar records for Warwickshire, Dorset and Norfolk. These cannot be searched by name and need to be browsed by location and date.

Findmypast.co.uk has also put workhouse records online for Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Manchester, Bury, Withington, Monmouth and Pontypool, which can be found by searching for ‘workhouse’ here.

The National Register of Archives and Access to Archives are useful for finding the location of workhouse records that have not been scanned – search for the name of the workhouse or Poor Law Union.

Remember, a death certificate revealing that an ancestor died in a workhouse from the late 19th century might not mean they were in dire poverty, as by then infirmaries attached to workhouses offered the best form of free medical care. Infirmary registers are usually kept separately to workhouse admission registers. Use the Hospital Records Database to find records for workhouse infirmaries that became hospitals.

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