Staffordshire Archives and Heritage in association with Keele University is working to devise an online dictionary of poor-law biography. This will include the life stories of ordinary people in Staffordshire whose experiences were touched by the Old Poor Law, either because they were a pauper or because they offered goods and services to the parish.
The project draws on a little-used source typically called overseers’ vouchers. These ephemeral pieces of paper contain brief information about bills paid by the parish, and can supply evidence of the lives and livelihoods of tradespeople, the aged, workhouse residents, and other groups within local communities who are often not well represented in sources before the first detailed census of 1841. Vouchers can be numerous and do not follow a set format, meaning that they are challenging for individual historical researchers; archival volunteer groups, though, have the collective power to undertake significant investigations into vouchers’ contents and research potential.
This blog features posts from the project team including volunteers, archivists and academics working on the surviving overseers’ vouchers for Staffordshire, and will include information about the people we are finding in the documents, questions about sources and surnames, and invitations to consider the value of finding out about ordinary historical lives. In this way, the blog will be an important part of the research and writing process for generating the online dictionary.