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A Few Tips On Illegitimacy.


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I assume that many of you have come across an illegitimate ancestor in your family tree? The absence of a fathers name on a birth certificate or baptism record. Often you can try and begin a search to find a father. Sometimes this cannot always be achieved if say the mother remained single but on the other hand many people have found the father of an illegitimate child, as I did with my Roberts story. The father was still married when the mother was pregnant and his wife died after a long illness just weeks before the actual birth, explaining the illegitimacy.

Those are the sort of things to look out for if you stumble across an illegitimate birth.

A lot of illegitimacies happened because the parents had no option but to wed after the birth, either financial, a previous marriage etc, a divorce awaiting to be granted etc from one of the spouses.

If it was before 1834, then you may be wise to check local Illegitimacy Bonds for the parish where your illegitimate ancestor was born to see if a putative father is named. Or check the original baptism to see if a father is named. After 1834, then Affliation or Court Orders can be checked but not all have survived.

Did the mother marry shortly after the birth? This may make you wonder if she did marry the father of the child, or another man. It is likely that the man she married was the father but looking for more clues may be an option. If this was before any census then check local church records for any clues. What was the new hubbys occupation? What was his previous marriage status? Was the baby baptised after the mother married. If the child was then baptised as "Jane, Daughter of William & Mary Smith" then you are very likely dealing with the childs father. If during the census age, then look at the relationship column although this is not always conclusive. I think the best option is to check baptisms. It all can hinge on the baptism.

The father of an illegitimate child may have lived a fair distance away from the mother. People travelled and commuted remarkable distances sometimes walking. If the suspected father was living say 10 miles from the mother in a census return either before or after the birth, check his occupation. If he was a Servant, carman or coachman, then he probably did travel around and may have had jobs at different houses miles from where he lived and knew the mother. Check old maps to see if there was good road or rail links between the mothers and fathers parish. No cars, but after 1844 there were trains, and there has always been horse and carts. People knew people who lived miles from them either through work, friends, relatives etc. They could travel 10 miles to do their courting, and they didnt want to leave with nothing.

If you suspect a likely father of an illegitimate child through clues such as a baptism, church record or marriage, him either local to the mothers area or a distance away, then another option is to check his marital status at the time of the babys birth? Was he married? Was he only just recently widowed? This may well explain the illegitimacy.
If after 1837, and you know he was still married after the birth or during the pregnancy and you know his previous wife did eventually die, then her cause of death may be something to look at? Was her illness a long and drawn out one? Men did seek comfort if their wives were terminally ill. Causes of deaths can be quite vague before 1875 when a doctors note was required but they can still be informative ie "Bronchitis, years, certified" or "cancer, 5 years certified".

I hope my tips proves helpful, drawing from experince in my own tree.


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