The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland, is Europe’s largest reference library. It holds a vast amount of material of great interest to genealogists, including census records, newspapers, old parish records, war records, monumental inscriptions and Post Office trade directories.
While all of these may contain useful information for those tracing their roots in Scotland, Dr O’Brien suggests that the Poor Law Records are one of the most useful insights into past lives because of the amount of detail that is recorded. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow holds 5000 volumes for the city.
The application for assistance under the Poor Law required an examination of the circumstances of the applicant. Consequently, a dossier was built up that held records such as letters, marriage certificates, birth certificates, religion and sometimes even photographs.
These items can on occasion be quite shocking for descendants, as they record events such as prison sentences or illegitimate births.
Each time an application as repeated further details were recorded and these included previous addresses, so that a broad picture of the applicant's circumstances can be seen.
Dr O’Brien gives as one example a tragic tale of infidelity and subsequent family break up and emigration, and emphases how the stark details as recorded in the Poor Law Records are both moving and sad.