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Unseen Views of Crime and Poverty in London - 1680-1820

It is amazing some of the documents that have survived over the centuries. England does have a long tradition of keeping records for all types of events, from the grand to the common and ordinary. Since many people have some English background in their ancestry, there is an extremely interesting online site that should be investigated, even if you do not have any English relatives.

The site, London Lives, has gathered and placed online the written papers, records and documents of some 3.35 million individuals who either lived in, had business or visited the grand city of London, England from 1680 to 1820. However, these are not necessarily the famous, the influential and scholarly citizens of London, but generally the common people. To further define their station in life, they were also the poor, the social outcasts, the orphans, or the criminals of London during this time period.

One is always intrigued by the ‘black sheep’ of the family and this series of databases puts a magnifying glass to the real life experienced by real people in 18th century London.  There is a search box to assist a researcher in locating any of some 240,000 different manuscripts and documents.

Even if one did not have any known ancestors in or around London at this time, the stories you could uncover would be captivating.  Many individuals are listed from other counties like;  Worcestershire, Kent, Warwickshire, Middlesex, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Hertford, Dorset and Buckinghamshire. To help you understand London life, there is also some basic history about the poor relief, the workhouses, the criminal justice system, the hospitals, how parishes were organized, prisons and accepted social norms of the day.

The developers of the site have put together a collection of individuals’ stories, what they called a featured life and wrote what happened to them using the various available documents. There are some fascinating real stories to be read which gives proof to the saying; ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’  Learning of the life of an orphan is most heartbreaking.  It may be possible you had a relative sometime in the 18th or 19th century who was also an orphan and this opens up a window into what may have been their world, even if they lived outside London or England.

With each document there is a transcript of what is written.  Some of the terms or phrases are not as common in the 21st century, but you can get the general idea of what is being written about. The actual document in original handwriting is also show and a magnifier tool so you can read it easier.

Not all the documents deal with bad situations for individuals. Some are Wills that have to go through a court system.  Other names appear who are speaking on behalf of any person, as to their character, property, occupation, etc.  There are even listings of people with fire insurance policies; providing a date, value, occupation and location of their property.

So a very worthwhile site to browse and return to at different times as new stories and documents are added.

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