Geoffs Genealogy Update 7 January 2015

Wednesday January 7th, 2015 | Geoff

With all the Christmas and New Year festivities of the past few weeks, I have not done any fresh research into my forebears during December 2014. I have spent any available time during the month entering the data I collected in November, concerning my grandmother’s family’s time spent in Shoreditch Workhouse, into my family history database. This has been a sizeable piece of work,  and as I write this I have still to complete it. Hopefully I will be to finish the job in the next few days.

In my last blog entry I listed the sources that I had been using in this research, all of which are available to view on  I am confident that the Hollidays  will not have been the only family among my forebears to have spent some time in a workhouse. I will use this blog entry to point up a few points that I have found interesting in working with these records.

Firstly, I would say that, particularly if you have working class London ancestors, it is well worth you looking at the Shoreditch Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, 1430-1930 on the Ancestry website, as there are  lots of people listed there. The records are not complete, and it is obvious that by no means all people had the misfortune to spend time in the workhouse, but if you do trace one of your forebears there you will find the information most interesting. In my case I knew that the Hollidays had been in Shoreditch Workhouse because I had found them there on census entries. Although some of the London Poor Law records have now been indexed, the indexing is a work in progress, and the records that I have been using need to be searched line by line. This may seem a bit arduous to some researchers, but in fact it is the way we old hands used to work in those distant pre-internet days, and although it is time consuming, it does lead you to a much fuller appreciation of the records.

The first entry relating to my great grandparents and their children that I found in the workhouse admission books dates from 1895, when my grandmother was about 4 years old. However, using a process of nominal record linkage I can see from other records that it is likely that members of the family were in the workhouse prior to this date, leading me to believe that there are gaps and inconsistencies in the information provided. Also, I find that information about the ages of inmates is very inconsistently recorded.

In some respects I find it difficult to interpret the information in the Admission and Discharges books, particularly when trying to ascertain the length and frequency of my family’s sojourns in the workhouse. For instance, there are numerous instances where a date of discharge is recorded, only to be followed by an admission entry on the very same day. How am I to understand this? Were these entries made for some administrative reason, but in fact the family did not leave the workhouse, or did the Hollidays leave the workhouse but then find themselves unable to find accommodation in the outside world and return to the workhouse later the same day? I suspect that there were some occasions when this latter explanation applied, but the frequency of this type of entry leads me to suspect that this is unlikely to have been the case on all occasions. In recording my data I have relied on the information in the “Whence Admitted” column as a guide to how I should catalogue these entries. If this column contained the explanation “This House” I have assumed that I am dealing with a period of continuous living in the workhouse, but if some other wording appears in this column, eg “No Home” I have assumed that the family have left the workhouse and then returned.

The “Whence Admitted” column tells a sorry tale as far as my forebears are concerned, as in most cases it states “No Home”. It is apparent that my grandmother’s parents struggled to put a roof over their family’s heads.

My nan had a number of siblings, but as far as I know only Frederick, her younger brother, lived to adulthood. My records about her other brothers are incomplete, but some of them do appear in these records, and this has enabled me to add some more details to my family tree. Particularly sad was the case of Sydney. I already knew that he had been born on 20 September 1901, as I had found his baptism. Searching the infirmary records shows that he was admitted to Shoreditch Infirmary on 17 January 1902, apparently suffering from eczema. He was discharged on 10 July 1902, and the reason for discharge was given as “Dead”. I need to get a copy of his death certificate, to see what the cause of his death was.

Children who were in Shoreditch Workhouse with their parents were only usually there for a couple of days before being transferred to the children’s homes that were run by the workhouse at Hornchurch, in Essex. These were usually referred to as the Cottage Homes, and they opened in 1889. When the parents were due to be discharged their children would be transferred back to the workhouse, before being discharged with their parents a day or so later. The Holliday children spent much of their childhood in these cottage homes, which means that they spent much of their childhood apart from their parents. Obviously, this was not an ideal state of affairs, but from what I have read of these children’s homes conditions they were more pleasant than those in the workhouse. As I mentioned in last month’s blog, my nan obviously received a pretty good education, as her grasp of the three rs was the equal of most people, even when she was in her late 80s. If you would like to find out more about these cottage homes here are a few websites that can help you:

Tony Benton’s Benton History website

Former Children’s Homes

Peter Higginbotham’s Workhouses website

I could ramble on for ages about the Shoreditch Poor Law and Board of Guardian Records, but I think I have said enough for now. On another subject, I am pleased to see that the annual Who Do You Think You Are exhibition has been moved from its London home to Birmingham, giving those of us who live in the midlands a better chance of visiting it. It is being held at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham from from Thursday 16 April to Saturday 18 April, and I have already booked a couple of tickets for the Thursday, at a reduced “early bird” price. I have attended the show in London a couple of times, once as a visitor and once when I was on the Shropshire Family History Society’s stand, but moving it to the NEC has made it much easier for me to go.

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