Friday, 22 October 2010

The 8 Bastardy Documents for Family History

In the mid 18th century with the Industrial Revolution illegitimacy began to rise sharply with around 3 in every 100 births in 1750. By the early 19th century this had risen to nearly 7 in every 100 births. Changes in social attitudes reversed this trend in the early 20th century when illegitimacy fell to around 4 in every 100.

This rise in illegitimacy called for a wealth of records to be created mostly by the local parish and stored in the County Record Offices. The Old Poor Law instructed the local parish churchwarden and the overseer of the poor to force a pregnant unmarried mother to identify the father. This was due to the increased burden that could fall onto the parish.


This was known as the Bastardy Examination but there are eight documents which can help to find the father of an illegitimate child.

·       Bastardy Examination – the mothers information on the identity of the father
·       Notice of Application for a Bastardy Order – sent to the accused father ordering him to appear before the Quarter Sessions
·       Bastardy Recognizance – like a bail bond instructing the believed father to appear at the Quarter Sessions
·       Bastardy Warrant – orders for the apprehension of the believed father of the child
·       Bastardy Summons – instructs the local constable to bring the man in front of the court
·       Bastardy Order – this highlights who is to pay what
·       Bastardy Certificate – this certifies that the father has paid what was due and releases him from the Bastardy Recognizance
·       Bastardy Bond – this is a promise by a bondsman to pay the parish any costs incurred by the father.

A good place to search is the National Archives www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a

By entering ‘bastardy’ in the search as the key word if will produce a list of all the relevant records held by various archives in some counties.

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