Where to look online for Scottish Poor Relief indexes & collections


11 February 2021
Alison Spring shares her recommendations for the best online resources for exploring Scottish Poor Relief indexes and collections.

Scottish Poor Relief records explained

In 1845, The Poor Law (Scotland) Amendment Act transferred responsibility for the identification, assessment, and support of impoverished citizens from the established Church of Scotland to the state, under the auspices of the central Board of Supervision. Authority was then devolved to local parochial boards (and subsequently parish councils) for the practical daily administration of poor relief, handled by inspectors appointed in each parish.

Each parish was responsible for the support of its natives wherever they went in Scotland. The natal parish’s duty to the poor was superseded only by the residency rights afforded paupers who had lived for five years or more in any given place. For this reason, the inspectors of the poor who interviewed applicants had to make sure they took note of where and when each claimant had been born – whether in Scotland or elsewhere.

The Act set inspectors a 24-hour time limit after their initial interview with the applicant, at the end of which they were required to render their decision. If the claim was approved, a careful record was made of all support that was offered. This could be in the form of money, clothing, the poorhouse, or, in some rare cases, education for children.

Every iota of detail gleaned about the pauper was entered, including such events as removal to an asylum or the death of a child, and if support was continued over a period of time, each contact with the claimant was recorded. It’s not uncommon to find
a record ending with the date of death of the person in question.

Where to look online for Scottish Poor Relief indexes and collections

  • Ayrshire – Free registration to a regularly-updated index of what’s available (but note that while film ordering from LDS/FamilySearch centres is no longer an option, requesting digital copies may be possible) and search on ‘poor relief’
  • Borders – Search or browse a record index for 1845-1933 records 
  • Dundee – Friends of Dundee City Archives’ database includes two volumes covering 1854-1878 
  • Lanarkshire – North Lanarkshire Archives’ collections can be accessed with a “free lockdown account” through this link to Ancestry 
  • Moray – A database of many different types of Moray records includes an index to poor relief registers for the county and the former Banffshire area. Start with a people search here 
  • Paisley – Covering Paisley and its associated Abbey parish from 1839 to 1948 is this downloadable index
  • Stirling – Online indexes for various parishes in the county, plus some images of the kind of records you will find in their archives
  • FindMyPast – Many northern Scottish counties as well as East Lothian, Ayrshire and Renfrewshire have records here 
  • Ancestry – Images of Kirkcaldy’s Abden poorhouse records. Locate this collection in the Ancestry Card Catalogue under ‘Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, Poorhouse Records, 1888-1912’.

Tip! An excellent explanation, with images, of the different types of poor law records you may come across is provided by the Scottish Archive Network’s Virtual Vault

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About the author

Alison Spring is a professional genealogist and passionate economiser in all things genealogical and you can keep up with her weekly suggestions for family history money-saving tactics on her blog. Alison may also be booked for online genealogy presentations.

Article adapted from an in-depth study of Scottish Poor Relief records in the March 2021 issue of Family Tree magazine.