29 May 2014

NGS 2014 Family History Conference – Session F303 – Newly Discovered Records of the Poor: Rich records of the indigent and downtrodden


Another in the series on sessions I attended at the NGS 2014 Family History Conference.

F303 (R) Newly Discovered Records of the Poor: Rich records of the indigent and downtrodden, Eric Stroschein, Syllabus page 309

It’s been awhile since a presentation talked about a type of US record that I have never heard about – if even in passing.  After you do a lot of research and dig into just about any record you can find, it’s always pleasantly surprising to find out not only that there might be more records you can look into and how they might benefit your research.

I was completely unaware of Laws relating to “Mothers’ pensions” in the United States, Denmark and New Zealand (1914).  My take away is that these were a precursor to the welfare programs that we are more familiar with and they fascinate me since there are several “poor” families that have stymied me in 1920s & 1930s North Carolina.

And, I learned why I wasn’t familiar with these laws, apparently North Carolina, in 1914, was NOT one of the states listed in this collection, though 22 US states are listed.  Let me observe that the “south” as a whole is not represented in this list!  I also checked a 1919 version of the above publication (expanded to include Canada), which mentions 41 US states, including some southern ones like Virginia and Tennessee, though, alas, no North Carolina.  According to an article by The Legal Genealogist (Judy G Russell), North Carolina finally enacted such a law in 1923 (her information is based on an article no longer online).

Doing further research, I came across an article “The Evolution of the Institution of Mothers’ Pensions in the United States,” Ada J Davis, American Journal of Sociology Vol. 35, No. 4 (Jan., 1930), pp. 573-587 (available via JSTOR, see article JSTOR – A previously hidden treasure trove now has elements FREELY accessible to all! to learn how you can access journal articles via JSTOR).  This article tells me that in North Carolina the county commissioners handled the disbursement of funds.  I then visited the MARS catalog (State Archives of North Carolina) and learned that under the Social Services Record Group (97) it is stated ...
In 1920 the State Board of Charities and Public Welfare was organized into five bureaus and the commissioner's office. The Bureau of Child Welfare handled case work, supervised institutes for defective, delinquent, and dependent children, and gave general oversight to the Mothers' Aid Program, begun in 1923 to aid needy widowed, divorced, or deserted mothers of young children... 

There is also a reference to this public law, 1923, c[hapter]. 260. I then checked out Public laws and resolutions passed by the general Assembly at its session of 1923 (see page 631 of 722, actually page 483 in original publication) “Chapter 260 – An Act to Aid Needy Orphan Children in the Homes of Worthy Mothers”


For me to learn more, I will now need to physically visit the NC Archives, look at the appropriate “black binder,” learn how the records are organized, obtain the correct call number, pull the records and take a gander.  I’ll let you know what I find out.  If you decide to visit the NC archives and ask for these same records, let’s keep how you heard about them a secret .

The pages in the syllabus give you a rich history of these records, the pertinent laws, what you might learn from these records, suggestions on how you might find them and a list of reference links/resources that you will want to check out.


Editor’s Note: This series is not presented in any particular order.




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