The rattlers of keys


25 January 2013
FT__Feb2013_karensblog-300x212-21087.jpg The rattlers of keys
In the February issue of Family Tree, we tell you how to track down the best websites and sources for researching workh


In the February issue of Family Tree, we tell you how to track down the best websites and sources for researching workhouse, asylum and prison staff. Start unlocking their stories now with assistant editor Karen Clare.

It can be quite a shock to discover an ancestor in the workhouse, asylum or prison. Part of the joy, and the sorrow, of family history is finding those skeletons in the cupboards. But perhaps even more intriguing is finding a relative who worked in such institutions, which continue to haunt the public consciousness as dehumanising places of incarceration for those forebears deemed unfortunate enough to be admitted.

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How true are our modern perceptions? And what was it like to work in such an institution, such as the workhouse so famously immortalised in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist? Whether your ancestor was employed in a workhouse, asylum or prison, Family Tree holds the key to uncovering the stories of their working lives. Our expert Mary Evans, who has worked behind the scenes as a genealogist on TV shows such as 'Who Do You Think You Are?' and 'Great Houses with Julian Fellowes', has come up with more than 90 excellent websites and books (many online) to help you in your research, saving you time, energy and maybe even money!

Find out how to track down ancestors who worked as poor law guardians (and those forebears who sought their help) or on the local board as clerks, treasurers, relieving or medical officers and more. Discover the top sites for tracing individual Victorian institutions and the various staff roles within them, from masters and matrons to chaplains and schoolmistresses. Get to grips with life as a nurse in a ‘lunatic’ asylum or the punishments that could be metered out by prison officers right up until 1948. Follow links to find out what life was like in prison for female inmates and discover lists of names online for prison warders and staff, and much more.

Mary’s unbeatable sources will give you new research routes to follow and add to the rich tapestry of your family story. So rattle those keys and, like your ancestors working so long ago with the poor, criminal and ‘insane’, unlock those doors. Who knows what you may discover with our help in your genealogy journey?