[Hpn] POORHOUSE Story: Online history & related research fwd

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Thu, 7 Dec 2000 09:42:57 -0800 (PST)

How do HOMELESS SHELTERS today in the USA compare with 19th century POORHOUSES?

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Dec 04, 2000
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     An AP Member Exchange
     Hillsdale Daily News

HILLSDALE, Mich. (AP) _ She began by looking for information on
her grandmother ``Emma'' and discovered a family history that at
first surprised her, then later inspired her on to a new mission.

Linda Cannell, known as the ``Poorhouse Lady,'' began her web
site, <http://www.poorhousestory.com>, to chronicle the history of
American's poorhouses and the destitute people that history forgot.
Her site is a clearinghouse for information on the numerous
poorhouses that dotted the American landscape in the 19th century.

The story of the Will Carleton Poorhouse in Hillsdale County is
told on her site. There is also a 1850 Census listing for the
poorhouse in Fayette Township, with Lorenzo and Susan Dowd listed
as the ``keepers of the poorhouse.''

Carleton's 19th century poem ``Over the Hill to the Poorhouse''
brought national attention to the problems facing the elderly and

After studying her grandmother's life in the poorhouse, Cannell
developed ``The Poorhouse Story'' to help other contribute with
their own stories and research. ``I felt it was appropriate to try
to dispel the often underserved negative image of poorhouse
inmates,'' said Cannell, who found her grandmother's story an
inspiration. ``This site is dedicated to her memory.''

The web site continually looks for volunteers to contribute
research, to transcribe poorhouse records, to extract poorhouse
inmate lists from Census records, to transcribe poorhouse cemetery
records and death lists and to index individual poorhouse records.

``The ultimate goal is probably respect for the lives of people
... who were unfortunate enough to spend time in the only
institution our society was committed enough to provide for them,''
expressed Cannell.

Intended for history buffs, genealogists, teachers, students and
anyone else interested in knowing more about this story, ``The
Poorhouse Story'' aims to make research more accessible and
available. It seeks to ``remove the secrecy which shrouds the
poorhouse'' and to ``dispel the negative image attached to
poorhouse residence.''

Visitors to ``The Poorhouse Story'' are encouraged to contribute
newspaper articles, photos, and records chronicling the era of the

Efforts to clean up potter's field cemeteries are an example of
what has been submitted to the Web site. The site issues a monthly
online newsletter and provides a message board for the sharing of

For those interested in reading more information on poorhouses,
a short bibliography is included. Recommended reading includes ``In
The Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in
America'' by Michael B. Katz. Other books listed deal with other
aspects of poverty and welfare.

The poorhouse was not just a colloquial place in our nostalgia,
but a reality for those living on the edge of society.

In the 1800s, county poorhouses served the homeless and
destitute families, impoverished either by natural calamity or
personal misfortune. Poorhouses were also home to unwed mothers and
orphans. In an era without a social safety net, the elderly _
either too frail to care for themselves, or who had no one to look
after them _ often ended up in the poorhouses. They were also home
to unemployed seasonal temporary workers and injured workers.
Poorhouses were also home to the mentally ill and handicapped
people, the blind or those with other serious physical handicaps.

With frequent epidemics, the 19th century was a time of severe
illness, which hit the poor the hardest. Unable to pay for medical
treatment, they would spend their time to recover, or die, in the

It has been difficult for genealogists to track those who spent
time in poorhouses. The Census might pass them by. They were not
likely to vote, pay taxes, or serve on juries. Their poverty meant
there were no wills or property records to consider by a probate
courts. They might not even show up in church records. Often, these
individuals are only found on the books of the poorhouse itself.

And genealogists might not even suspect a poorhouse as part of
their family history.

``Most of us do not expect to find any ancestors on the rolls of
poorhouse inmates,'' Cannell said. ``We never even think of such a
possibility _ probably because of inaccurate stereotypes.''

The state of Michigan maintains an archive of information
gathered, mostly from county governments or agencies that used to
house the ``indigent ill, tuberculosis sufferers, and the
homeless.'' Not all of the archive's records are available to the
public. However, the registers from county infirmaries and county
poorhouses are not restricted. Individuals do not need permission
to see the records. Records from sanatoria are a different matter.
These are confidential records maintained by the Michigan
Department of Health.

AP-CS-12-04-00 1315EST
Received  Id AP1003392814E371 on Dec 05 2000 07:59


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