🇺🇸 Lene Kottal Professional Genealogy Contact Lene Kottal

Pauper Ancestors: Reasons for Poverty and Amount of Support Received

Lene Dræby Kottal
Pauper Ancestors: Reasons for Poverty and Amount of Support Received

In 1803 new laws about poor funds were passed in Denmark. Per the law about paupers in rural areas of Denmark, each parish minister had to record many details about the paupers in his district. The fattighjælp (support for paupers) was granted after evaluations at quarterly meetings in the fattigkommission (pauper commission), so you can follow the development of your poor ancestor's situation in these records.

Information in the Pauper Records

The parish minister had to ensure that poor parishioners were given the help they needed. Inhabitants could also request help themselves. The parish minister had to question all individuals and write down the following information for each of them:

  • Name, age and health.
  • How long the person has resided in the district and with whom.
  • Whether the person has previously needed or received poor funds.
  • His need and the reason behind it.
  • Whether he can earn something himself, or at all times get a job.
  • Whether he has a pension or receives support from friends or in any other way is supported.
  • How much he needs and his wishes for the support.

Furthermore, paupers had to be divided into three classes:

  1. Elderly or ill persons who are completely incapable of providing for themselves.
  2. Children who has no or only one parent, or whose parents are mentally or physically incapable of providing for their children.
  3. Families or individuals who cannot earn enough to support themselves, for instance due to illness, age, or many children.

As mentioned, the commission met four times per year. If someone was in immediate need between these meetings, the minister had to give them temporary help until the commission met again. The minister had to notify the commission of any help given, so this is sometimes recorded alongside the other details.1

Such a book from a pauper commission is called a forhandlingsprotokol (book of negotiations). It did not come with preprinted headings, so the structure in these books vary from place to place. As with any record type, not all record keepers were equally detailed and thorough, so you will not find the same amount of details in all areas.

Assessment of the Poor

Anna Simonsdatter Pauper Dalby-Stubberup 1803

In the books beginning in 1803 you can see a lot of paupers listed, because the new laws had just been passed. In the book from Dalby-Stubberup Fattigkommission I found Anna Simonsdatter as a class one pauper (see the image above). The record says:

Name and occupation hitherto, condition and need: Anna Simons Datter born in Stubberup Parish in this disctrict by poor smallholders, where she always lived and resided until 60 years ago when she married Hans Simonsen, who held the copyhold of a house without land in Martofte; after his death 20 years ago, she ceded the copyhold and there she receives free room; she has always been respectable, diligent and industrious and provided for herself as long as she could. In her increasing age she has received alms from the parish. Very needy without relatives or friends she deserves care of the district.
Age: 81

Suggested support: When this old and fragile widow is given the same support as no. 3, she cannot be in distress.
How it [the support] shall be given: The support shall be given in the same way as for the preceding persons. [The support is received when it has been grinded. The butter is delivered in June and September quarters and the pork in March and December quarters.]

The suggested support for no. 3 was the same as no. 1, except 1 rigsdaler less, which then means that the suggested support for Anna Simonsdatter amounted to 10 skæppe rye flour, 6 skæppe malt, 1 skæppe barley flour, 12 pounds of butter, 12 pounds of pork and 4 rigsdaler per year.2 Skæppe was a unit of measurement equivalent of 17,39 liters.

Change in Poor Funds due to Changed Needs

At each quarterly meeting the situation of the listed paupers was reassessed, in the minutes from the meetings you may find new information about the situation of a person who received poor funds. The situation may have either improved or worsened. If a pauper had died or moved away, that was also recorded in the minutes.

In the first evaluation from January 1804 Anders Knudsen is listed as a paupers of the third class. The description of him and his situation says the following:

Anders Knudsen born by poor smallholders here in the district, where he has always served; twelve years ago he entered into marriage with a poor girl and was granted the copyhold of a house without land. He is the father of six children, who are all at home; despite both he and she are able to work and earn something, he by thatching and day labor and she through spinning [yarn], it is not enough with so many children, but since his situation is somewhat better that no. 3, he can manage with a little less than him; as long as his children are at home and small, he should be helped.3

In June 1804 the commission held a meeting at which new information about Anders' situation was discussed:

It was found that the pauper no. 4 of the third class, Anders Knudsen who received funds for his children, has improved his thatching [income] a bit, and therefore the commissions finds it reasonable that he receives less for the second quarter.4

Rejections of Requests for Poor Funds

A request for poor funds could be rejected for various reasons. Here is an example of that:

Mads Larsen, copyholder of a house with 4 skæppe hartkorn [land] requests poor funds for his 9-year-old child, who is blind, but since this man, who apart from the income from his land, earns something by both thatching and day labor, and his wife is sound and strong and earns something by spinning [yarn], so his request cannot be fulfilled.5

This rejection is listed after those who were granted poor funds from the beginning of 1804. Rejections thereafter are mentioned in the minutes.

How to Find Online Poor Funds Records

At the advanced search page of the website of the Danish National Archives, search for "fattig* forhandling*" (without the quotation marks, but with the stars) to find books of negotiation from the pauper commissions. By marking scannede arkivalier, you limit the search to digitized records. You can also add the name of the parish to the search string.

Happy hunting!


Source references:

  1. Reglement for Fattigvæsenets provisoriske Indretning og Bestyrelse paa Landet i Danmark [law about poor funds in the rural areas of Denmark], 5 July 1803; PDF, Hjemmeside for Birgit og Martin Henriksen (https://h58.dk/Fattigv/Fattigv_Landet.pdf : accessed 13 April 2019), path "Gamle love og andre bestemmelser" [odl lawas and other regulations] > "Fattigvæsen" > "Reglement for Fattigvæsenet på Landet 1803."
  2. Dalby-Stubberup Fattigkommission, Forhandlingsprotokol, 1803-1826, folio 3 verso, "De fattige ... 1ste Klasse," entry 4; digital image, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=346041#346041,69022369 : accessed 13 April 2019).
  3. Dalby-Stubberup Fattigkommission, Forhandlingsprotokol, 1803-1826, folio 5 recto and verso, "De fattige i 3die Klasse," entry 4; digital image, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=346041#346041,69022370 : accessed 13 April 2019).
  4. Dalby-Stubberup Fattigkommission, Forhandlingsprotokol, 1803-1826, folio 12 verso, minutes from 8 June 1804; digital image, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=346041#346041,69022378 : accessed 13 April 2019).
  5. Dalby-Stubberup Fattigkommission, Forhandlingsprotokol, 1803-1826, folio 8 recto, entry 2; digital image, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=346041#346041,69022373 : accessed 13 April 2019).
  6. The image at the top of the post: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.