From Atlas to the Topographical Dictionaries of England & Wales
Published by S. Lewis & Co., 1844. Drawn by R. Creighton. Engraved by J. & C. Walker.
The Poor Law Unions were set up under the Poor Law Act of 1834 and when researching your family history it is important to understand their role for several different reasons:
Each Union consisted of a group of adjacent parishes working together, based on the largest town in the area. In some cases a union may have involved parishes on both sides of a county boundary. As can be seen from the above, some Hertfordshire Poor Law records were in the Amersham, Luton and Edmonton Unions - and the relevant records will be in the appropriate records offices, rather than HALS.
The unions were responsible for the welfare of the poor and the workhouses - so that if your ancestor fell on hard times he may have ended up in the appropriate workhouses.
When civil registration was established in 1837 the geographical areas for registration corresponded with the Unions. This means, for example, that index will record the birth in the registration district - rather than the village where the child was born - although the certificate will give the full place of birth.. Again there are cross-county boundary problems.
The same boundaries were used for the census returns, so a parish on a county boundary may find itself on a microfilm of a different county. For instance, on the Ancestry index of the 1861 census Waltham Cross is recorded as being in Middlesex rather than Hertfordshire.
For a good introduction to the Poor Law see the Wikipedia entry.
For information on Workhouses - including some detailed information on some of the Hertfordshire workhouses see The Workhouse web site.
Relevant News Items to Workhouses and Poor Law Unions
Page updated October 2013