Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives hold records relating to the relief of the poor throughout the North East. There are minutes for most parishes in the historic counties of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire (excluding parishes now in Moray) and Kincardineshire, and we also hold applications for relief, inspectors' records, and registers of guardians for many parishes. These records are held at our Old Aberdeen House office. A list of the parishes for which we hold records of the poor for can be found below.
A list of the individual records for each parish can then be found on our Online Catalogue.
Most of the records relating to the poor law for Aberdeen City have not survived, having been destroyed during the Second World War: see below for a summary of what is held.
Poor relief records for the Moray Council area, including areas of historic Banffshire, are held by the Moray Council Heritage Centre.
Access to Poor Law records which are less than 100 years old may be restricted under the Data Protection Act. Please contact us for further information. Remember that although the information you are looking for could be over 100 years old, it may be in a document or volume with newer information.
Background to our poor law records
Before 1845 relief of the poor was undertaken by the parish kirk session. In 1845 the Poor Law (Scotland) Act established Parochial Boards throughout the country, which were replaced by Parish Councils in 1895. The duties of the Parish Councils were in turn transferred to town or district councils after the 1929 Local Government (Scotland) Act.
The poor laws were revoked in 1948 when the National Insurance and National Assistance Acts were passed, creating the post-war welfare state which was funded by National Insurance and administered by the National Assistance Board in conjunction with local authorities.
Most of our poor law documents were created by the parochial boards and parish councils and so date between 1845 and 1930, but there are later public assistance records for some areas of Aberdeenshire, Kincardineshire and Banffshire.
Finding people in poor law records
Parochial Boards were required to provide poor relief for the people within their parish. A board would be liable for the upkeep of a disabled pauper if that person had been born in the parish or had settlement there by means of residence or marriage.
If someone applying for relief to the board had not been a resident for long enough (5-7 years), the board would apply to the parish they believed liable for reimbursement of any relief granted. Where this has happened, the person may not appear in the general register or record of applications for the parish where they live, but there may be an entry in the minutes showing the parochial board's claim to another parish for reimbursement.
For example, if someone was born in Premnay but moved to Cluny and became disabled four years later, Cluny might grant relief but claim reimbursement from Premnay. The person asking for poor relief might appear in the Cluny minutes but not the Cluny Register of Application for Poor Relief or General Register of the Poor, and there could also be entries in the Premnay records.
If you know that someone was resident in a parish and you are expecting to find them in the parochial board records for that parish (from information on a death certificate or in a census record, for example) but can't find them in the indexes, it can be worth checking the minutes to see if another parish may have been liable for their upkeep.
We have indexes for the General Registers of the Poor, Registers of Applications for Poor Relief, and Children's Separate Registers, created by the Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History Society (the indexes are also available at their King Street research centre). The indexes for 1845 - 1900 are available to search via the ANEFHS's databank. These list the names of people who appear in the registers listed above, but not necessarily everyone in receipt of poor relief in the parish.
Volunteers have transcribed key details from the Skene parish records:
For parishes where General Registers of the Poor and Registers of Applications for Poor Relief do not exist or have not survived, it can be useful to search the Parochial Board Minutes instead. We have started to index these through our Parochial Board Indexing Project. Below are the initial indexes for Alford, Banff, Fordyce and Garvock Parochial Boards.
Understanding poor law records
- Before 1921 there was no relief for people who were unemployed - the Poor Law Emergency Powers (Scotland) Act 1921 was introduced as a result of the depression following World War One and allowed relief to be granted to people who were considered paupers but were not disabled.
- Records before 1921 will show reasons for disablement that can sometimes seem unusual. Disablement because of children or pregnancy sometimes appears where widows claim relief, for example. It can be useful to bear in mind that the Inspector of the Poor and the parochial board or parish council could not legally grant relief unless some form of disablement could be shown to apply.
- Doctors were expensive, so people may have needed to apply for relief just to be able to get medical assistance. When the 1872 Education Act was introduced all children were required to receive an education, but schools charged for attendance. Parochial board records may show a sum to allow children to pay school fees.
- Relief could be indoor or outdoor. Outdoor relief involved people staying in their homes, whereas indoor relief meant them being sent to the local poorhouse or parish home. As there was no relief in Scotland prior to 1921 for the able-bodied poor, there was no system of workhouses as was found in England.
- Parishes sometimes combined together for the funding and administration of a poorhouse, such as Buchan Combination Poorhouse in Maud or the Kincardineshire Combination at Dunnottar (Stonehaven). The only poorhouse for which we hold records is the one at Peterhead.
- Unfamiliar terms can be used in the records, and sometimes words are used in different ways to the way we use them now. Most of the poor law records are handwritten, with varying degrees of neatness. If you have any trouble understanding anything in the records, whether you're in the search room or have requested copies, just ask a member of staff.
What information do the records contain?
More information about the different types of poor law records we hold is given below. Not every type of record will be available for every parish.