Family Tree Puzzle – Illegitimacy
Uncovering an illegitimate child in your family tree needn’t hamper your research. There are a number of records kept in local county archives that might help identify the father’s name.
An entry for an illegitimate child in these registers is fairly easy to spot. Generally, the mother’s and child’s names will be appear with a word such as: ‘natural’, ‘bastard’, ‘base born’, ‘misbegotten’ or ‘spurious’.
‘Reputed’ and ‘imputed’ are two words that occasionally crop up alongside the entry. If a child is said to be the ‘reputed child of William Morgan by Mary Brown’, for example, this will tell you that William has admitted responsibility. If, on the other hand, imputed is used, then this implies that the girl claims William is the father, but he hasn’t acknowledged paternity.
Sometimes things are much more straightforward; a father’s name might appear as in ‘Eliza Brown, daughter of Mary Brown and William Morgan’. A child who is given two surnames is another clue worth pursuing: ‘Eliza Morgan Brown, daughter of Mary Brown’.
Poor Law Records
Up until 1834, when the Poor Law Unions were introduced, each parish was accountable for its own poor, with the overseers responsible for collecting money by means of the poor rate. The record books kept by the overseers can include payments made to mothers of illegitimate children and money collected from reputed fathers.
A formal examination could be made to determine a child’s father either before or after the birth. These sworn statements, made by the mother before a Justice of the Peace, reveal things such as the date of birth and the sex of the child, the putative father’s name, place of residence and his occupation.
Quarter Sessions Records
A case against the putative father might be brought to the Quarter Sessions if not settled privately. The documents will give the man’s name and place of residence.
These bonds, used before 1834, were signed by the father if a case was found, absolving the parish from financial responsibility and guaranteeing payment of maintenance until the child reached seven years of age. The Bastardy Bonds required two guarantors – one guarantor often being the man’s own father – and were commonly used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
If you have suspicions that a particular man might be the child’s father, it is worth checking to see if he has left a will. There may be a reference to his ‘natural’ son, for example, particularly if he had no legitimate sons.
Another possibility is that he took on an illegitimate son as an apprentice or perhaps paid the boy’s fee. The Apprentice Indentures will give the name of the apprentice and the master as well as the parish to which the child belonged and this information could help you to piece together a missing part of your family tree puzzle.
This content was provided by one of our users, Maureen