Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Illegitimacy and Bastardy Bonds

Some definitions:

Bastard – an illegitimate child, often referred to in baptism records as a ‘base born child.’

Bastardy Bond – document by which a father acknowledged paternity and agreed to pay the mother’s maternity expenses and maintenance of the child.  The money could be paid as a lump sum or in installments. If the father did not want to leave so public a record, his admission and agreement might be included in the Vestry Minutes instead of a separate bond. A more reluctant father might go to court to try to avoid paying and the records will be found there. Another way to think of it is that the parish council took the reluctant father to court to force him to pay. (After 1844, a woman was allowed to apply directly to the courts for maintenance orders.)
Bastardy Examinations – In 1733, a law was enacted that required a woman to declare an illegitimate pregnancy and tell the father’s name. Bastardy examination papers were the result of her interview with the overseers.

An unmarried woman was under a lot of pressure to name the father of an illegitimate child. In the 1600s, an unmarried pregnant woman could be sent to jail for a year. Whippings were carried out against women into the 1700s. Later, if the man was unmarried, he was pressured to wed the mother.  On the other hand, a man might make payments to the mother directly or to the parish as the intermediary. Only the latter were recorded in the parish documents.

Everything was done to prevent the mother and child from being a burden to the community.  Laws were tweaked and treatment of the mothers changed. An act of 1732/3 stopped removal of women during pregnancy and during the first month after childbirth. In 1743/4, it was decided that an illegitimate child’s parish of settlement was the mother’s parish, not where the birth took place.

It is easy to spot a bastard birth in the records because no father’s name is given, although it sometimes is in later records.  Sometimes a child is given a second name which is a surname that appears to be indicating the father - for example, John Haylett, base born son of Sarah Brett. So there is no confusion, when children were born after their father had died, the word ‘posthumous’ is used, such as ‘John Brett, son of James (posthumous) and Mary Brett.’

©2012 Susan Lewis Well

1 comment:

  1. Reading through court minutes from Illinois recently I saw quite a few references to fathers being called to account for bastard children. It is interesing reading.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)