Morgan County Poor Farm Records Index (1850–1932) Illinois State Archives

Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, University of Illinois at Springfield


The Morgan County Poor Farm Record Index was compiled by Vance Martin, Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD). The 2,727 records in the database were extracted from the Morgan County Almshouse Registers (IRAD Accession 4/0325/02) and Poor Farm Medical Examination Record (IRAD Accession 4/0325/03). The Almshouse Registers are referenced as volumes 1 (1853–1863) and 2 (1850–1919) and the Poor Farm Medical Examination Record (1912–1932) is volume 3.

Each entry found in the index contains the following categories of information: the name, age and occupation of the inmate; the date of admission to the almshouse; date of discharge from the almshouse; the volume and page number; and the supposed cause of pauperism. When an inmate died while staying at the almshouse, the date of death is also included.

The supposed cause of pauperism was transcribed literally from the almshouse register. Keepers of the poor were required by law to record a reason for dependence in the almshouse registers. The causes of pauperism listed are usually based upon the opinion of the keeper of the poor.

Names of inmates were transcribed directly from the almshouse registers and medical examination record. Every attempt was made to obtain accurate spellings of names. However, names were often spelled a variety of ways throughout the records. It was also sometimes difficult to decipher handwriting for some entries. Therefore, when searching this index, we suggest that researchers check alternative spellings of names if they do not find an entry for the name for which they are searching.

Care of the Poor in Illinois

Public care of the poor in Illinois began in 1819. In that year, the General Assembly passed a law mandating public care and maintenance of those unable to support themselves and without family support. County overseers of the poor farmed out care of the destitute to private citizens. [Laws of Illinois 1819, p. 127]

In 1839, this system was reauthorized. County commissioners' courts were also authorized to establish county poorhouses, at their own discretion, to replace the farm-out system; to hire keepers of the poor, and to levy a property tax for poorhouse support. [Laws of Illinois 1839, p. 138] This poorhouse authorization was renewed in 1845 and 1861. [Illinois Revised Statutes 1845, p. 402; Laws of Illinois 1861, p. 181]

An 1874 law required all keepers (superintendents) of county poorhouses to keep books of account. [Illinois Revised Statutes 1874, p. 754] The superintendent was required to keep a record showing the name of each person admitted to the county poorhouse; the time of his admission and discharge; the place of his birth; whether his dependence resulted from idiocy, lunacy, intemperance, or other causes, stating the cause; and is required, at the same time each year, to file with the county clerk of his county a copy of the same, together with a statement showing the average number of persons kept in the poorhouse each month during the year. [Illinois Revised Statutes 1874, p. 758]

In 1917, counties were authorized to establish joint poorhouses and poor farms with other counties; and in 1919, a law provided that all poorhouses and poor farms maintained by counties be called county homes. [Laws of Illinois 1917, p. 638; Laws of Illinois 1919, p. 698] The county home law was renewed in 1935 and 1945. [Laws of Illinois 1935, p. 1055; Laws of Illinois 1945, p. 1139]

In 1949, the Public Assistance Code was passed, making relief of the indigent a function of the new county departments of welfare. County homes were reauthorized only for care of infirm or chronically ill persons; counties were specifically forbidden from placing destitute but physically healthy persons in the county homes. [Laws of Illinois 1949, p. 404] In 1967, the Public Aid code repealed the county home laws and deauthorized the county homes remaining in Illinois. [Laws of Illinois 1967, p. 118]


Register (1853–1863, Volume 1) shows the name of the inmate; the date that the inmate was received; and the cause of pauperism. The register may also show the nativity of the inmate; the date of discharge and the reason for discharge.

Register (1850–1868, Volume 2) shows the name, sex, color, birthplace, occupation before admission, age, marital status and former residence of the inmate; health status; habits (e.g. abstinent, temperate or drunkard); a list of property brought to the almshouse; the name of the person authorizing admission to the almshouse; the dates of admission and discharge; the date of death (when the inmate died while staying at the almshouse); and remarks. The register may indicate whether the inmate could read or write.

The remarks category provides valuable information about the physical, mental and emotional condition of the inmate; the reasons for admission to the almshouse; the place where the inmate went after discharge from the almshouse; and the relationship of the inmate to others residing at the almshouse or elsewhere.

Record (1912–1932, Volume 3) shows the name, age, color, marital status, nativity and place of birth of the inmate, the inmate's current and previous addresses; length of time the inmate had lived in the county; the precinct of residence; whether the inmate was a pensioner; date of admittance; occupation, wages, property and relatives with means of support; habits (i.e., beer, whiskey, tobacco, drugs); religious affiliation; educational level; cause of dependency; family history of tuberculosis; family medical history including for each relationship, the name of the relative or relationship to inmate (e.g., mother, father, sister, brother), age, occupation, wages earned, habits, religious affiliation, education, property owned and address; personal disease history (e.g., measles, typhoid fever, cancer, pneumonia); medical examination including the height and weight of the inmate, color of eyes and hair, complexion, and chest measurements; results of medical examination of heart rate, arteries, eyes and ears, urinary, joints, glands, mental, nervous disease, thorax, inspiration, percussion, auscultation, rales, tuberculosis symptoms, and expectoration; and diagnosis. The record occasionally includes a photograph of the inmate.

Examination record also includes a physician call register showing the date of the physician's call, the name of the county physician; the number of prescriptions given to males and females and the total number of prescriptions given.


Copies of the files found in this index may be obtained by mail or telephone. Inquiries should be made directly to the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at University of Illinois at Springfield. IRAD cannot accept requests by email at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
LIB 144
University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza, MS BRK 140
Springfield IL 62703-5407

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