The Erie County Poorhouse of Buffalo, NY and succeeding institutions known as the Erie County Alms House, Erie County Hospital, and Erie County Home & Infirmary (Alden, NY), operated as a social safety net for the region’s poor and infirm. The Grosvenor Room recently acquired historic ledgers that document the people that received care at these institutions from 1861 to 1952. Nine volumes show a record of individuals during intake, or at the time of death, providing information that can be very useful for genealogists and local history researchers. This chart provides an overview of the content:
Here’s what you need to know when searching for an ancestor or other individual that may have been in the Poorhouse/Alms House: The ledger information was recorded in chronological order (by the date admitted or date of death). There is a name index for [Vol.1] only. Despite the lack of name indexes (although we plan to create one) finding a person by browsing is not too difficult, especially if you know a year or brief time period. The handwriting in the ledgers is fairly crisp and legible. Most of the people listed in volumes 2 through 6 are adults; children who temporarily accompanied a parent or relative will also be listed by name. Infants born in the Poorhouse are noted with the date of birth and name of mother.
The children listed in [Vol.1] Children Bound out… could have temporarily or permanently lived with other families in a type of indentured arrangement like an apprenticeship. Very young children could be bound out as a method of adoption.
The relevant family history information that you may discover varies in each ledger. For example, [Vol. 5] Register of State Paupers…December 1873 – September 24, 1889 is quite detailed. It includes name, date of admission, sex, age, birthplace, cause of pauperism, location committed from, committing officer, complaining officer, discharge date, bound out date, provided for—by adoption or otherwise, absconded, transferred, removed from the state, death, and remarks on where the person was sent.Not only can you view the records in person at the Central library, but you can also browse all 9 ledgers online in our Digital Collections. Related resources and historical background on the institutions are listed in our Erie County Poorhouse research guide.
Fun facts: In 1851 the Poorhouse was relocated from Black Rock to the rural area known as the “Buffalo Plains” on the outskirts of Buffalo along Main Street. This location later became the South Campus of the University at Buffalo. Hayes Hall, now home to the UB School of Architecture and Planning, was originally constructed for the Alms House in the 1870s.
Many thanks to local researchers Roseanne Higgins, Ph.D. and Jennifer Liber Raines for their assistance with this collection.