Poor relief records – Not just for poor folks

Several of my ancestors were poor. Some were so poor that they relied on charity. I have found several of them in the records of charitable organizations, such as the deacons of protestant churches, Holy Ghost tables of catholic churches, and civil poor administrations. When I went through the records, I also found ancestors who were not poor; in other capacities.

These sources include many names besides the people needing poor relief:

  • Officials, such as the deacons, Holy Ghost Masters, administrators.
  • Tradesmen who took in poor apprentices to learn a trade.
  • Heads of households who took in a poor person as a boarder in return for a payment.
  • Shopkeepers, bakers, butchers, doctors, midwives, and other people supplying goods or services to poor people.
  • People who rented land or houses owned by the poor administration.
  • People who left money or property to charity in their wills.
  • People who borrowed money from the poor administration at interest. The poor administration often acted as a local bank, and used the interest for their charitable activities.

The records can be hard to find since they are typically not indexed. Most of them can be found in local or regional archives by browsing the finding aids of the town, church, or poor relief organization. Most are not digitized, though increasingly, archives offer scanning-on-demand.

Example: Sprundel poor relief records

The archives of the municipality of Rucphen include the records of the civil poor administration of Sprundel, one of the villages in the municipality. These records include a series of accounts from 1815 to 1850, which are available via scanning-on-demand. I had the 1840 records scanned.

The bundle was 42 scans, including the accounts for that year, an itemized list of income and expenses which named people who paid the organization or who received relief, and a series of receipts from the people who received money from the poor organization.

The receipt below shows that Cornelis Vissenberg received 75 guilders and 70 cents from Huijbregt van Steen, poor master in Sprundel, for delivered groceries and rye bread. The bill was issued on 26 December 1840 and paid the next day.1

  1. Civil poor administration of Sprundel and Vorenseinde, accounts 1840, receipt by Cornelus Vissenberg, 27 December 1840; call no. 1489, Municipality of Rucphen, Record Grop RAW-0704, West-Brabants Archief, Bergen op Zoom; finding aid and images, West-Brabants-Archief (https://westbrabantsarchief.nl/collectie/archieven/file/20cd373ec44c48528f29c17bc9cabd4f : accessed 30 June 2022).
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG® is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate certificate in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. I wrote about similar records for England recently and how I found them deep in FamilySearch’s unindexed collection…a treasure trove of information!

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