Removal orders, settlement certificates and settlement examination records for the county from 1670 to 1890.
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The idea of settlement was a simple concept, that every person had a place of settlement, a parish where they were entitled to receive assistance, should they require it. There were very specific rules about how a settlement could be gained, which were set out in what has become known as the Act of Settlement of 1662, but was in point of fact an Act for the 'Better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom'. It was enacted when many parishes were finding themselves under pressure and needed stronger powers to rid themselves of unwanted migrants. These were uncertain times, when unemployment, sickness or the death of a family's breadwinner could occur at any time. Most families faced the threat of poverty and reliance on the parish to avoid starvation, and it was vital for them to ensure that they had a legal settlement in the parish in which they lived. The settlement laws generated a lot of paperwork. There were three main types of record; removal orders, settlement certificates and settlement examinations. Magistrates issued a removal order if they believed that a person or family needed, or were likely to need, relief, but had no right to settle in the parish. The removal order directed that a person or family be returned to their place of legal settlement. The parish constable would escort them to the parish boundary and hand them into the custody of the next parish constable, and the process continued until they reached their destination. The settlement certificate, which may reveal relationships between family members and families, links with particular places, came into being when an Act of 1697 tried to encourage a little more mobility of labour than had been possible since the 1662 Act. The new system operated as a kind of guarantee; overseers were now allowed to give papers to parishioners who were seeking work in another parish certifying that they would be accepted back in the event that they later needed relief. The settlement examination is usually by far the most useful settlement document for the family historian. They were produced when magistrates examined people, on oath, as to their place of settlement. Examinations often include ages, and much other useful information, such as birthplaces, places of marriage, ages of children, apprenticeship and employment details. They explode the old notion that our ancestors seldom strayed beyond the confines of their own parishes, doing the same jobs all their lives. It is also illuminating to see how many men examined by the magistrates had served in the armed forces at some stage in their lives. They have been described as 'mini biographies of the poor' and, where these records have survived, they can give us an insight into the experience of ordinary people in the past, which few other sources can rival.
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As with any transcript users are advised to consult the original material, which is at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
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Supplied by: Wiltshire Family History Society
Product Ref: WIL-CD21