Authored and kindly supplied by Robert Eyre, Senior Archivist at Warwickshire County Record Office.
Bastardy records are a familiar class of record that can turn up in the parish chest. They form part of the administrative records of a parish that began with the introduction of the Elizabethan Poor Law.
Essentially a parish was responsible for the care of its poor residents but would seek to keep the list of dependents to a minimum. There are several ways that this could happen, for example the laws of settlement or pauper apprenticeship. Children born out of wedlock was commonplace by the late 18th and 19th centuries and the parish would be keen to make sure that the father was identified and, if necessary, compelled to contribute to the child’s maintenance. The records that survive in parish collections can sometimes provide vivid insights into the experiences of the women concerned, particularly the Bastardy examinations which were interviews with the local magistrates to determine the name of the father. Unfortunately these can be very patchy in terms of the survival rate so the frustrated researcher may have to look elsewhere.
Another place that Bastardy records can be found are the Quarter Sessions records for example the class of records contained within Ancestry’s recently-launched database for Warwickshire entitled Warwickshire, England, Bastardy Orders, 1816-1839. They are in fact a mixture of Bastardy orders and certificates granted at Warwickshire Quarter Sessions for cases of Bastardy between the years 1816 and 1839. A recognizance, which was really a kind of bail bond may have been issued to the father to appear before the court, the bastardy order would then be issued once the child was born instructing relevant parties to pay for the child’s maintenance. Typically the following information is contained in a Bastardy order:
- Name of the mother
- Parish to whom chargeable
- Name of the man charged with being the father
- Amount he is ordered to pay to the overseers of the parish for the child’s upkeep
- Ongoing weekly sum incurred by the parish for the upkeep of the child for a term of years
There may also be enclosures such as receipts or a notice of application for a Bastardy order sent to the father or sometimes his employer.
The certificate would be produced by the Overseer of the Poor for the parish responsible for the child and lodged with the court under the following circumstances: if the father has paid up, married the mother or the child has died (in which case the recognizance is discharged) or if the father is still bound in recognizance as the child is not yet delivered.
Clearly not all cases of Bastardy ended up with a paper trail but this database , which contains over a thousand examples, may provide a missing piece of the jigsaw for some family historians.
If you discover an ancestor in this collection we’d love to hear about your findings & any suggestions you may have for others also searching them.