While doing research on my family tree, I run into a number of sad situations. Most of them involve infant mortality, which seems alarmingly frequent to our modern eyes. But this time I happened upon a different sad situation.
It all started when I found a strange birth record with a bunch of question marks and a surname I was researching. I look at the image of the record and found the original was perfectly legible: in 1868 Lucy Morse had a baby boy, at the age of 13 1⁄2! The father was listed as “not known, thought to be a Wilbur”. Further research showed that her entire family was living in the Cheshire County Alms House, listed on the census form as “paupers” at the “poor house”. Two years later this 15 year old girl married a 28 year old man with the last name Wilbur, presumably the father referred to in the birth record. They moved in with his parents and brother on their farm, which he soon took over. But sometime in the next 10 years, Lucy was dead; she wasn’t yet 25! Her mother-in-law was also dead by that time. A few years later the father ended up in the same “poor house” and died as a “county pauper”. He continues farming for the next couple of decades, but he, too, ends up in the “poor house” and spends almost 4 years there before passing on.
I’ve spent my whole life hearing the phrase “poor house” (for example the song stuck in my head), but never realized it was something other than a figure of speech.