Almshouse ledgers collection

Collection REC0008 - RG 050. Human Resources Administration

Almshouse ledgers collection
Collection REC-0008

Records in this collection range in years from 1758 to 1952, with the bulk of material dating from 1832 onwards, when the City established The Almshouse Department. Prior to 1832, the Almshouse fell under the purview of the Overseers of the Poor, House of Correction, Workhouse and Poorhouse, followed by the Commissioners of the Almshouse and Bridewell. The ledgers contain information pertaining to several inter-related institutions, known at various times as the Almshouse, Poorhouse, Penitentiary, Workhouse, Incurable Hospital, the City Home and the City Hospital. The materials alternate between specific institutions, a department or neither.

The records in this collection include account books, census records, letter books of outgoing correspondence from the Wardens, workhouse and hospital registers, hospital supplies and inventories as well as personal property records pertaining to inmates at the various institutions. The strength of the collection lies with its admissions, census, discharge, deaths and illnesses ledgers. A number of records pertain to children in the Almshouse and other institutions on Blackwell’s Island, particularly nursing infants. The hospitals and their various wings are also well represented in the volumes.

The ledger-style admissions, discharges and deaths and census books record the names of people who were confined (voluntarily or otherwise) in the almshouses, asylums, hospitals, workhouse or penitentiary that made up the numerous facilities on Blackwell’s Island. Many volumes contain detailed information regarding age, gender, disease, date of admission, discharge and/or death. While overwhelmingly male dominated, women, and children to a lesser extent, are well-represented in these books during the years 1822-1860. With few opportunities for employment outside the home, a widow or unmarried woman without family support was often forced to turn to the city for help. Many women brought their children with them, or had their babies in the institution. Women who were unable to nurse their own children were assigned a wet nurse who was paid by the department overseeing the institution. Many mother-child pairs are noted in the children’s registers. Religion, nativity and color of an inmate became a more commonplace piece of information recorded in many volumes from the 1820s going forward.

The collection also contains nine Bond ledgers. During the 19th century, under various New York City Charters, ship captains or vessel owners of ships arriving in New York had to put up a bond acknowledging, as best they could, that no passenger they were transporting would become a charge of the City and agree to pay all expenses and charges for those passengers for two years. However, many of the passengers did end up on Blackwell’s Island in one of its facilities. Consequently, these Bond ledgers contain valuable information about the adult and child inmates of the Almshouses and their related entities, including name, age, nativity, child parentage (if known), when they arrived in New York and their port of origin.

Hospital transfer ledgers denote types of illnesses patients suffered from or succumbed to with details on the patients themselves. In some cases, there are notes about doctor visits with the patient. The hospital ledgers allow for deeper understanding of why a patient was admitted and what types of illnesses were most prevalent. Many of the hospital ledgers include a country of origin for the patient. The collection also includes a large number of Stock Books and Requisition, Distribution and Inventory volumes. These shed light on the types of food, beverages and supplies needed to run such overcrowded and busy facilities, as well as the needs of the staff of the institutions.

The collection is in volume form with each volume numbered. The numbers are not chronological. Volumes that were received by the New York City Municipal Archives with numbers already attached to them were retained. For those volumes without a number, one was assigned and these numbers all start with a zero (0).

The volumes range in size from approximately 14”x9”x1" (height by depth by thickness) to 20”x20”x1” or 16”x17”x2” or 15”x11”x3”. Many are about 14”x11”x2”. 122 volumes have been digitized and there are 47 rolls of microfilm. The entire collection contains 418 volumes and covers 194 years of New York City History.

83 cubic feet (418 volumes)