How to look for records of... Workhouse inmates and staff

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to help you find records of a workhouse inmate or member of staff.

What do I need to know before I start?

Local archives are the best source of information on workhouses. Workhouse records at The National Archives usually relate to the general business of the workhouses rather than individual inmates or members of staff. Not all records survive, but where they do you may find admission and discharge books or registers; creed registers, registers of births, baptisms and deaths, details of staff appointments and general correspondence.

Try to find out:

  • the name of the inmate or member of staff
  • when they were in the workhouse
  • the name of the Poor Law Union that ran the workhouse (see ‘Did you know?’)

Online records

Few workhouse records are available online, but the following resources may be useful.

Records of Poor Law Unions (1834-1871)

Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 parishes were grouped into unions and each union had to build a workhouse if they did not already have one. To find out in which union a particular parish belonged, see Poor Law Union Records: 4. Gazetteer of England and Wales (2nd edition), by J Gibson and FA Youngs.

Search and download records of over 20 Poor Law Unions in Discovery, our catalogue (£), using names, place names or occupations as search terms. The records sometimes include details of individual paupers and workhouse staff.

Census records for England and Wales (1841-1911)

Search for a person on the census in England and Wales 1841 to 1911 (£). This may help you to find out whether a person was in a workhouse at a certain date.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Registers of paid officers of the Poor Law Commission and its successors (1837-1921)

Browse our catalogue in MH 9 for registers of paid officers of the Poor Law Commission and its successors.

Correspondence relating to Poor Law Unions and other local authorities (1833-1909)

Search our catalogue by name of Poor Law Union in MH 12.

Records in other archives and organisations

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


Visit The Workhouse website to access extensive information about workhouses. The ‘records and resources’ section may help you find out which local archives hold workhouse records.


Read the relevant booklet in the series Poor Law Union Records: vols 1-4, Jeremy Gibson and others (Family History Partnership), to find out what records have survived.

Read The Victorian Workhouse by Trevor May (Shire, 2005).