Better dead than in the workhouse?

I’ve now had a chance to take more of a look at the new Norfolk records which have appeared recently on familysearch.org (see last blog post). Images of a variety of documents, including Poor Law Union records (workhouse), some Non-Conformist church records (rather limited in Norwich at least – 2 Congregational , 1 Quaker, 1 Unitarian, covering minutes, membership and BMD), Bishops transcripts (which I’m not familiar with) and some more . It is purely an image database – no index other than to location such as parish. Which means you have got to have a reasonable idea already of the data that exists otherwise you are looking for a needle in a haystack (OK possibly quite a small haystack).

Today I had a go at looking at St Andrews Workhouse, Norwich. I had previously found two options for the death of great great grandmother Harriet Smith, born about 1819. She married gr gr grfather Robert Neal and after his death married John Blyth, so that would be the name she went under.  She was a waitress in 1891, living with her daughter’s family. There’s a possible death registration in 1896 of about the right age, but also an entry for a Harriet Blyth in the workhouse in the 1901 census, unfortunately labelled ‘lunatic’.

I went through the workhouse admissions register from 1892 or so. The first entry for Harriet Blyth(e) appeared 1st November 1895, aged 72 – a bit young but then women do tend to lose a couple of years on the way. This Harriet was in and out of the workhouse for the next couple of years but re-admitted usually within a few days, or the same day, as discharge. The final entry for  admission 28 July 1897 (where she has changed from being from Nth Heigham parish to Coslany), with a note next to the discharge date of 28 June 1902 saying ‘dead’. The corresponding death registration gives an age of 77.

I’m still no nearer deciding if the workhouse lunatic was my relation. If it is, her children would have been busy looking after their own quite large families and likely couldn’t cope with a demented old lady too.

Further note: on reflection I can’t see a strongly religious man like great grandfather Robert Smith Neal leaving his mother to the mercy of the workhouse, so I’ll go with her dying in 1896. Getting hold of a copy of the death cert should help clarify, but its not top of the shopping list at present.

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