Darrell A. Martin
A "warning out" was a legal
formality, sort of like "irreconcilable
differences" in a current day's divorce court. The theory was that someone
had lately come into town and might become a burden on the town's resources
from poverty. They were therefore immediately run out of town. Well, that
was the theory. In practice, one of the town's constables showed up at the
person's or family's location (often a residence) and issued the formal
charge to be gone. The warning itself, regardless of whether the person or
family departed, served to absolve the town of any future responsibility,
and so whether the person warned out actually left made no difference. On
many occasions, perhaps even in the majority of cases, the person warned
out settled in town, bought property, and in all respects became a
productive member of the community.
It had nothing to do with the
warned person's former activities or
financial standing. I know of at least one case where a person was warned
out even though the reason he had come to town was to take possession of
the prosperous farm he had just paid cash for! That town was perhaps being
a bit too legalistic, but it wasn't alone. There are examples, on the other
hand, of people who were not aware of the practice, and thought that they
had fallen among the least hospitable people on the face of the earth!
The genealogical value is that
the warning was written in the town's
records, and frequently included every member of the family, by name. It
offers a snapshot of the family's composition at a specific date. On the
other hand, one must be careful; some warnings really were issued to
transient indigents, and some went to folks who were just passing through
on their way somewhere else (I have an ancestor who fits that description).
Children who had been place with another family, for any reason, or who
were apprenticed, would of course not even be mentioned. But it is hard to
overestimate the impact of finding a warning out in many cases where a
family's whereabouts was unknown, especially between censuses.
A. Martin Addison, Illinois
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jane
To: RBOYD9@cs.com (Richard Boyd)
I have inherited some old documents
from a woman who recently died here in
town. Because I feel that most of them should go to the Historical Society,
I am copying them in the computer, so that some of them, of genealogical
interest, etc. can be more widely spread around. None I have read so far
made mention of any Boyds, but one is, I believe, of general interest to any
of us with MA roots. See it below. It is concerning a pauper,
named -----Lewis, and the writer of the letter is, I believe (but it is only
a guess on my part, knowing what documents concerning other paupers state)
answering the Selectmens' questions (they are also Overseers of the Poor)
regarding whether they are responsible for his care, or if another town is.
Although they, the Selectmen, are interested in paupers at that point, note
that all residents come under that rule.
Letter Asahel Stearns Esqr
Major Nathaniel Howard Chelmsford
Chelmsford April 24th 1813.
I have attended to the subject of your enquiry on behalf of the town.
The following are the ways in which settlements may have been given, viz,
1st Any person being a citizen of this Commonwealth, who resided within any
town or district of the late province of Massachusetts Bay, for the space
of one year at any time prior to the 10th of April 1767, without being
warned to depart therefrom according to law, thereby gained settlement in
such town or district.
2d From the 10th of April 1767
to the 23d of June 1789, no person gained a
settlement by residing in any town or district, without a vote of such town
or district at a general meeting.
3d From June 23d 1789 to Feb.
11th 1794, any person, being a citizen of the
Commonwealth, and seized in his own right, or in right of his wife, of an
estate of freehold in any town or district, of the clear annual value of ten
dollars, and residing in the same town or district, occupying and improving
such freehold in person for the space of two years, thereby gained a
There are other modes
of acquiring a settlement since Feb. 1794, which I
suppose it unnecessary to state, as Lewis left the town before that time.
Major Nathaniel Howard
Chairman of the Selectmen