Norfolk County, Virginia Extant Poor House Records


The old Norfolk County poor house records housed in the Annex or State Records Center for the Library of Virginia consists of pages in a few ledger books, odd pieces of paper in varying sizes and numerous small pieces approximately 3 inches by 2 inches. They used these small pieces when they gave money to the poor to get their signature (usually a mark such as an X) indicating that they received the money and it also had the signature of the witness. These records seem to concentrate in 1790s through early 1800s with one as late as 1888. The entries herein are arranged by date, but the date is in general terms only. Getting the odd pieces of paper in chronological order serves no purpose and wasn’t attempted.

In 1761, Norfolk County was divided into 3 parishes (Portsmouth, St. Brides and the Elizabeth River Parish). As with all areas, the border can and did change. These parishes each had a church associated with them and their own set of Overseers who all met periodically and assisted in taking care of the poor. The sheriff and the collectors were the men in charge of collecting the tithe while the committee or board of the Overseers recommended the rate to be charged based on the number of “tithes” or “tythes” counted in the parish.

The Poor House was supported by the county in the form of the tithables collected, but they also received money from the operation of the ferries as you will find “Ferry Money” received in some of the records. Money was also generated by the hire of the Parish Negroes which were hired out yearly with their names listed in the record or the rent of the Parish lands.

People went to the poor house when they lost their source of income, i.e. became a widow or an orphan, got sick with no one to care for them, etc. They left the poor house when they died, got better, found relatives to take them in, were apprenticed out, widow having given birth, etc. The rules of who they assisted and where (at home or at the Poor House) changed, so often you will find women with small children listed and since they only covered certain ages in caring for them at home, you will find the children listed by name along with their ages which is invaluable for tying people to their mothers.

A full-name index adds to the value of this work.


Sharon Rea Gable


2023, 8½x11, paper, index, 140 pp.

ISBN: 9780788429651