Settlement Certificates and Settlement Examinations

Settlement Certificates and Settlement Examinations

The Poor Law Act of 1601 had declared that every parish was responsible for its own poor. Naturally, parishes did not want to be liable for the relief of poor from another parish also, and so the concept of 'settlement' arose. Anyone 'settled' in a parish had a right to relief from it, and others did not. But people have always travelled in search of work, whether seasonal or long-term. To prevent any hindrance to this, settlement certificates were first authorised by an Act of Parliament of 1662.

A settlement certificate was a document addressed by one parish or township to another. It was issued by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor to a resident of the parish who intended to live elsewhere. Its purpose was to certify that the person named in the certificate (and if appropriate, his or her dependants) was legally settled in the parish of origin. It meant that the issuing parish would receive back the named person and dependants if it became necessary to provide them with poor relief or pay for the relief of the person in the parish in which they were living.

The certificate was lodged with the overseers of the new parish who retained it as an insurance. In this way, the certificates found their way into the parish chest and from there finally into the archives. Probably only a fraction of the certificates which were once issued now survive.

Doncaster Archives holds details of 963 certificates issued to fifteen parishes in the Doncaster area between 1692 and 1846. A published index to these is available: Pamela Lindley, Settlement Certificates in the Archdeaconry of Doncaster 1692-1846, Doncaster and District Family History Society, 2000.

In law, settlement for poor law purposes in a parish or township could be acquired in a number of ways. Naturally, most people acquired a settlement from their place of birth or, for women, through marriage, which gave them their husband's settlement rights. Other ways of acquiring a right of settlement were through completing an apprenticeship, renting or buying a substantial property or serving in a public office, such as churchwarden, constable, overseer of the poor, or parish clerk.

Anyone who applied for relief and was not accepted as legally 'settled' in the parish or township would have their origins investigated to discover where their true place of settlement actually was. This process was known as a 'settlement examination'. This was conducted before two magistrates, who questioned the person about their life-history. The resulting document can be of great value to family historians, as it may include details of the various places where the person had lived, what employment they had at various times and information about their family.

Doncaster Archives holds 349 of these settlement examinations, dating between 1730 and 1846. They have been summarised and indexed by Pamela Lindley in From Pillar to Post: Settlement Examinations in the Archdeaconry of Doncaster 1730-1846, published by the Doncaster and District Family History Society in two volumes in 2001.


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