We received the following genealogy question about England research from our blog reader Barbara:
In reading some 18th century parish poorhouse records in Devon, I came across references to help being given to parishioners “in necessity” which I believe means they had need of help from the overseers of the poor. But I’ve also seen several that say “to So-and-So, by consent.” And once I saw an “to So-and-So” in necessity by consent.” Can you tell me what they mean by “by consent” and by “in necessity by consent,” please?
Great question! The records of the poor can be a great resource as we learn about our families in England. Both the poor and in need of the parish are represented, as are the more wealthy members of the parish who helped “foot the bill”.
Each individual parish would keep its records with its own format and wording. However, the following facts may be helpful in understanding the concept of “by consent.”
The book titled The Parish Chest, by William Edward Tate, is a great resource for all things regarding the more secular activities of a parish.
Basically, it was the responsibility of the Vestry of the parish to make decisions regarding which of the poor of the parish was worthy and entitled to help from the parish.
A general explanation of the Vestry of a parish is that they were a body of men registered under the name of the parish church and democratically elected. Their assignment was to run the secular business of the parish. They also fixed a levy on the more affluent of the parish to aid the poor.
Following is an example from Cowden, Kent Overseers Book that indicates the value of having the Vestry consent to the disbursement of funds! Spelling and grammar as per the original.
“That if any officer, Church warden or overseer, doe buy or allow to the buying of any clothes or any Reliefe to any poor inhabitant of the said parish or any otherwise Charge the said Parish without hee or they call a Vestry. That then they such officer or officers shall beare the loss of such monies as hee or they shall Lay Out or give away without Consent of A Vestry as aforesaid.”
I hope this helps.
Lindsey Bayless AG ®
British Isles Regional Chair, ICAPGen Testing Committee
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