Who's the Daddy
Published in Practical Family History 2007


Discovering the names of your ancestors is what building a family tree is all
about, so uncovering an illegitimate child in your family line can appear to be a
severe setback. But research needn't come to a full stop as there are a number of
records available, all of which can be consulted at local county archives, which
may just help identify the father.

You could be forgiven for assuming 'illegitimate' simply meant a child's parents
were not married at the time of his or her birth, but there are other definitions. It
can also mean that the parents' marriage wasn't recognised by the Anglican
Church. The Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753 declared that all marriages from
March 1754 should be solemnised in a parish church, making a Nonconformist
marriage illegal and any children of such marriages illegitimate and unable to
inherit property.

The Deceased Wife's Sister Act (applied to England and Wales in 1835-1907)
also ruled that a marriage to your deceased wife's sister, after 31 August 1835,
was invalid. In practice, however, these marriages continued, or a couple married
abroad, with the children of these unions being considered illegitimate.

Parish registers
The baptism of an illegitimate child is easy enough to recognise. Generally, only
the mother's and child's names will appear along with the words: 'base born',
'bastard'. 'natural' or 'spurious'.

Occasionally an entry in the register will offer more enlightening information. If, for
example, the child is said to be the 'reputed' son of John Edwards, you will know
that this has been proved or at least John Edwards admitted responsibility. On
the other hand, the 'imputed' son of John Edwards implies that the girl said the
child was his but he hadn't acknowledged paternity.

Another indication - and a very fortunate one for the family history researcher - is
finding a child baptised as 'James Smith, son of Elizabeth Smith and John
Edwards'. Likewise, an illegitimate child baptised with two surnames (one being
the mother's) can often be a clue to the identity of the father.

Poor Law records
Until the Poor Law Unions were formed in 1834, each parish was accountable for
its own poor, with the overseers responsible for collecting money by means of the
poor rate. Because the overseers, churchwardens and clergy worked closely
together with regard to their poor law duties, the parish poor law records are
useful documents to check when looking for the parentage of an illegitmate child.

It can be helpful to study settlement papers in order to establish your ancestor's
place of legal settlement.

The laws of settlement decreed that a legitimate child took its father's place of
settlement, even if this was different from the child's place of birth, whereas an
illegitimate child could claim a legal settlement in the place he or she was born - a
good reason for the overseers to dispatch a pregnant girl back to her own place
of settlement.

If the illegitimate child was born in a place other than his/her mother's settlement,
there was a possibility that they would be separated. Removal orders and
apprentice indentures will also show a person's place of settlement.

Examinations
Sometimes a formal examination was made before birth to determine the child's
father so that he could pay the lying-in expenses and maintenance of the child,
and these payments may be recorded in the overseers' accounts.

Other examinations took place during or after the birth and these documents may
reveal the date of birth and the sex of the child.

An overseer could apply for a warrant to bring the alleged father before the
Justice of the Peace at the next quarter sessions [courts of limited criminal and
civil jurisdiction and appeal, usually held four times a year]. These 'examination
after birth' documents will show the putative father's name, place of residence and
often his occupation.

Quarter sessions records
Most cases regarding illegitimacy, unless settled privately, were brought to the
quarter sessions and these records are also held at local county archives. The
quarter sessions records comprise files and minute books.

The documents themselves, collected at each quarterly session, are to be found
in the files, although it is far less time consuming to check the minute books first in
order to locate the relevant case.

The father's name and place of residence will be on the document - and
sometimes the parish to which the child would become accountable.

Bastardy bonds
If the case against the man was found, a bond may have been signed absolving
the parish from financial responsibility and guaranteeing payment of maintainance
until the child reached seven years of age.

These 'bastardy bonds' required at least two guarantors - one guarantor often
being the man's father - and were commonly used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many have survived and are normally found among the parish records.

When the Poor Law Unions were introduced in 1834, bastardy bonds were no
longer used and, after 1839, cases involving illegitimacy were heard at the petty
sessions [a magistrates' court].

Kirk session records
In Scotland, the Kirk Session records of the Established Church of Scotland may
help you trace the name of the father. These 'examinations' often went to
painstaking lengths to discover the paternity of an illegitimate child. Check with
the National Archives of Scotland as not all records for every area are available.

Sometimes called 'irregular marriages', some marriages, especially in the south-
west of Scotland, took place where no banns were published in the couple's
parish church. These marriages may never have been recorded but in the eyes of
the law they were legal and the children of such marriages were deemed
legitimate.

Other clues
* If you have reasons to suppose a particular man might be the child's father,
check to see if he has left a will. A man, especially if he had no legitimate sons,
might leave part of his estate to his 'natural' son.

* A man may have taken on his illegitimate son as an apprentice or paid the
boy's fee. Apprentice indentures, held in county archives, give the name of the
apprentice and the master along with the parish to which the child belonged and
so might confirm your suspicions.

* Remember, even if you can't prove the identity of the father, with careful
research you may be able to find some extremely useful pointers.



(c) Maureen Vincent-Northam 2007


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