Internships in the Time of COVID-19: Kingston Almshouse
Thankfully, due to the digital nature of my internship, my work has not been interrupted by COVID-19 and its fallout. I consider myself very lucky to be able to continue my work transcribing documents for the Kingston Almshouse. Working on this project has been an exercise in discovery. At the time of writing this post, I have gotten through about three and a half years of paperwork, recording the existences and unique stories of over one hundred people between 1872 and 1876. Trying to piece together the lives of these people, figuring out what kinds of people ended up in such a place as the poorhouse has been very interesting and deeply rewarding. It is helpful the original recorder of the documents gives a few remarks at the bottom of the documents, which can sometimes help piece together a story about the person’s life and why they’ve come to this place, although not much can be said for his handwriting or his spelling.
Some of the most interesting people whose documents I have transcribed are those of young people who come to the poorhouse seemingly on their own. For example, a sixteen-year-old boy named Pat O’Niel came to the Almshouse in December of 1875. The recorder writes the following description of Mr. O’Niel’s story:
“This boy came to America when 12 years old, his mother died when he was 1 year old, his Father came to America when the Boy was about 7 years old, after a few years the father sent money to Ireland to pay the Boy’s passage to America. After his coming to America, his father put him to work driving horse, did not give him much chance for school, his Father has been dead 2 yrs. Since that time he has had no steady income.”
Other than this, there is not much to say about the document itself. Pat O’Niel could apparently give no more information about his relatives, as all information about their current statuses reads “unknown.” The reason the recorder gave for Pat’s being at the poorhouse was “has no home or anyone to care for him.” Although the recorder says that he believes O’Niel’s stay at the poorhouse to be a temporary arrangement, there is no record of his leaving the poorhouse, and the most insightful information the recorder could give otherwise was that the boy was suited to farm work. The story broke my heart a little bit to read, especially since even in the best-case scenario, Mr. O’Niel is long dead. And there are many equally heart-wrenching stories in the hundreds of documents provided by the Kingston Almshouse. However, all is not dark and gloomy.
[The original recorder’s account of Pat O’Niel’s story.]
Another boy gave a much sparser record of himself than Pat O’Niel. Joe Doyle’s reason for being at the poorhouse was, according to the document, that he “was on the canal but cheated out of his wages.” In other words, he couldn’t afford to take care of himself. This was exacerbated by the fact that Mr. Doyle was fifteen years old at the time of recording. Although the situation was grim, the glib way he described his misfortunes gave it a silver lining. According to the recorder, the boy’s habits were “not very good,” and his own statement said that he was “a bad one.” The different ways that people went about coping with their situations are a large part of what makes this project interesting.
[a Bad one, the recorder writes.]
Working on this project has made me wonder how the people staying at the Kingston Almshouse would have fared had a pandemic like ours broken out during this time. My instinct says, “not well.” We should consider ourselves privileged if we are able to social distance through this event, follow procedures, and do our best to help those who cannot.