ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Mercer County Almshouse Register Index (1859–1948)
Compiled by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Western Illinois University
The Mercer County Almshouse Register Index was compiled by Abigail L. Sutton and Hope A. Simmons, interns for the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System at Western Illinois University in Macomb. The 2,224 records in the database were extracted from the Mercer County Almshouse Register (IRAD Accession 2/0097/01).
Each entry found in the index contains the following categories of information: the admission number; the name and age of the inmate; and the year of admission to the almshouse.
Names of inmates were transcribed directly from the almshouse register. Every attempt was made to obtain accurate spellings of names. However, names were often spelled a variety of ways throughout the register. 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 shows the name, sex, color, birthplace, occupation before admission, age, marital status and former residence of the inmate; the nativity of the inmate's mother and father; health status; personal habits of the inmate (e.g. abstinent, temperate or drunkard); a list of property brought 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.
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 Western Illinois University in Macomb. IRAD cannot accept requests by e-mail at this time. Please contact:
Illinois Regional Archives Depository
Western Illinois University
1 University Circle
Macomb, IL 61455-1390