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Bastardy Bonds & Documents (Parish & Poor Law)

Nature of Source

Records generated from a number of documents relating to the issue of illegitimacy and bastardy cases mostly trying to determine the name of the bastard child’s father. A child born to unmarried parents was considered by law to be illegitimate. The range of documents, mostly deposited in the parish chest, include the Bastardy Examination, Bastardy Warrants And Summons, Bastardy Order, Maintenance Order and the Bastardy Bond.

A woman discovered pregnant outside marriage, apart from the social stigma attached to such behaviour, would probably become chargeable to the parish. If the putative father failed to admit his responsibility then the authorities acted swiftly and immediately instigated an Examination to establish the identity of the father carried out by either the Churchwarden and the Overseer of the Poor or the Quarter Sessions. These powers were of investigation were established under the Bastardy Act of 1575/6. The person was normally known to the mother and named by her during the examination.

Following the Examination, heavy pressure was exerted on the father to financially maintain the child and enter into a Bastardy Bond agreeing to pay the churchwarden and the overseers for the child’s maintenance. The terms of maintenance lasted until the child was old enough to be apprenticed out. If the supposed father resisted signing the bastardy bond, the parish officials could apply to the Justices for a filiation order which forced the father to pay for the upkeep of the child. Records of payments from the father are sometimes recorded in the Overseer of the Poor accounts or Churchwarden’s accounts.

The Bastardy/Affiliation Order was issued by the Justice of the Peace at the Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions following an examination. The Order obliged the putative father to pay for the child’s maintenance or face a possible prison sentence. After the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish authorities lessened their role in bastardy cases leaving the woman the option of applying herself for the bond from the Petty Sessions.

The Warrant gave the order for the father to appear in court if he attempted to abscond. Where disputes over payments occurred, the case papers may be found in the Petty Sessions records, although very few records remain.

Agreements and discussions of individual cases can be found in the records of the churchwarden, parish constable, overseers of the poor and amongst the vestry papers. In many cases the father married the mother soon after the birth of the child or made private arrangements for the child’s upkeep, in which case no record will be found of his name amongst the bastardy documents. The putative father often married the mother under pressure, usually by license and sometimes paid for by the overseers. Marriage licence records provide a marriage date and other useful information. A bastard child belonged to the parish where it was born, so an expectant mother moving away from her legal place of settlement could be forcibly removed to her home parish before the birth of the child. Be aware however, that occasionally the wrong man was named as the father.

It was not uncommon for a married couple to assign a family surname as a middle name. However, in the event of an unmarried mother giving the illegitimate child a surname as a middle name, this could indicate the paternity of the child. It worth looking for the will of the father of a bastard, as illegitimate children had to be acknowledged as such in the will, often described as the ‘reputed’ son. The Family Law Reform Act of 1969 gave illegitimate children equal inheritance rights.

Also see
Apprenticeship Indentures, Parish
Church/Ecclesiastical Court Records
Civil Registration, Birth including illegitimacy
Marriage Licence Records
Overseers of the Poor Accounts
Settlement Certificates/Examinations and Removal Orders
Workhouse Records (Poor Law Unions)

Where Found

County Record Offices (Parish records and Quarter Session papers: ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the Discovery home page)

Period Covered

1576 - 1834

Genealogical Value

Putative father’s name, place of birth, parentage, address, occupation and employees. Name (and sometimes former name) & address of mother. Aliases of illegitimate child.

Further References

Aschrott, Paul Felix. The English Poor Law System, Past and Present: Knight 1902 (Available to read online or download at the Internet Archive) Buy Now on Amazon
Bagley, John J & Bagley, Alexander John. The English Poor Law: Macmillan, 1968 Buy Now on Amazon
Beier, Lucinda. The Problem of the Poor in Tudor and Early Stuart England: Routledge, 1983  Buy Now on Amazon
Boyer, George R. An Economic History of the English Poor Law, 1750-1850: Cambridge University Press, 1990  Buy Now on Amazon
Brundage, Anthony. The English Poor Laws 1700-1930: Palgrave, 2002  Buy Now on Amazon
Burlison, Robert. Tracing Your Pauper Ancestors: Pen and Sword Books, 2009  
Cohen, Deborah, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day: Viking, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon
Cole, Anne. Poor Law Documents Before 1834: Federation of Family History Societies, 2000  Buy Now on Amazon
Englander, David. Poverty and Poor Law Reform in 19th Century Britain, 1834-1914: From Chadwick to Booth: Longman, 1998  Buy Now on Amazon
Fowler, Simon. Poor Law Records for Family Historians: Family History Partnership, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Hawkings, David. Pauper Ancestors: A Guide to the Records Created by the Poor Laws in England and Wales: The History Press, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Hindle, Steve. On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England 1550-1750: Oxford University Press, 2009  Buy Now on Amazon
Hitchcock, Tim & Black, John. Chelsea Settlement and Bastardy Examinations, 1733-1766: London Record Society, 1999  Buy Now on Amazon
Leonard, E M. The Early History of English Poor Relief: F. Cass, 1965(Available to read online or download at the Internet Archive)  Buy Now on Amazon
McLaughlin, Eve. Annals of the Poor: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990  Buy Now on Amazon
McLaughlin, Eve. The Poor are Always With Us: Varneys Press, 1994  Buy Now on Amazon
Paley, Ruth. My Ancestor Was a Bastard: A Family Historian's Guide to Sources for Illegitimacy in England and Wales: Society of Genealogists, 2004  Buy Now on Amazon
Paley, Ruth & Fowler, Simon. Family Skeletons: Exploring the Lives of our Disreputable Ancestors: The National Archives, 2005 (see chapter on ‘Bastards’) Buy Now on Amazon
Raymond, Stuart. My Ancestor was an Apprentice: Society of Genealogists, 2010  Buy Now on Amazon
Robinson , Jane. In the Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties: Viking, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon
Rose, Michael E. The English Poor Law, 1780-1930: David and Charles, 1971  Buy Now on Amazon
Sim, Alison. Masters and Servants in Tudor England: The History Press, 2006  Buy Now on Amazon
Slack, Paul. The English Poor Law, 1531-1782: Cambridge University Press, 1995  Buy Now on Amazon
Tate, William Edward. The Parish Chest: Phillimore, 1983 (Preview available from Google Books)  Buy Now on Amazon
Teichman, Jenny. Illegitimacy: An Examination of Bastardy: Cornell University Press, 1982  
Teichman, Jenny. The Meaning of Illegitimacy: J.Teichman, 1978 Buy Now on Amazon
Thompson, Kathryn. Apprenticeship and Bastardy Records: Historical Association, 1997  
Tomkins, Alannah & King, Steven. The Poor in England 1700-1850: An Economy of Makeshifts: Manchester University Press, 2003  Buy Now on Amazon
Welbank Fowle, Thomas. The Poor Law: Macmillan, 1893 (Available to read online or download at the Internet Archive)  Buy Now on Amazon
Zunshine, Lisa. Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England: Ohio University Press, 2005 (Preview available from Google Books)  Buy Now on Amazon

TNA Research Guide: Poverty and the Poor Laws

The EurekA Partnership
: Various titles containing transcriptions of Poor Law records covering Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire

Websites (Manchester Archives and Local Studies: Poor Law, workhouses and industrial schools) (Norfolk Record Office Information Leaflet 57: Illegitimacy) (GENUKI: Poor Laws Bastardy Papers) (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Illegitimacy in England) (Bastardy or Illegitimacy in England) (Researching Bastardy) (Researching Poverty) (The Poor Law and Charity: An Overview) (The Parish Poor) (Workhouses)

Online Databases (London Poor Law Abstracts, 1581-1899. Genealogical Abstracts from the City of London Parochial Poor Law Records including Bastardy/Affiliation Orders, Bastardy Bonds and Examinations as well as Quarter Sessions and Quarter Sessions Appeals. These poor law abstracts contain a complete summary of the details contained within each entry and includes all details including names and places plus incidental information such as relationships and occupations where found in the original documents. These records were compiled by genealogist Cliff Webb)
(Westminster, Poor Law and Parish Administration. The database contains over 1.7 million records from the poor law and parish administration records. The records cover Parish apprentices, Bastardy bonds, Settlement examinations, Paupers outdoor relief, Land tax and valuations and Workhouse admission records) (London Lives, Culture & Society 1680-1817. London Lives chronicles the lives of Londoners through the exploration of a variety of sources including criminal registers, session papers, ordinary’s accounts from Old Bailey, apprentice records, coroner inquests, workhouse minutes, Register of admissions to workhouse, clerks’ papers, Churchwarden's account books, Vestry minute books/vestry minutes, Register of removal orders, Pauper examination books/examination books, bastardy bonds and much more) (Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Parish Chest Records 1556-1950. Records from the parish chests of Plymouth and West Devon including: Examinations, Jury Lists, Settlement Papers, Bastardy Papers and Overseers and Churchwardens’ Accounts) (London Lives: Settlement/Bastardy Exams, Pauper Removal Orders) (Lincolnshire Poor Law Bastardy Cases) (Warwickshire Poor Law Index) (Yesterdays Journey, transcriptions dealing primarily with Derbyshire)
(Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire: Warwickshire bastard's index)
(Database of Poor Law records for West Sussex including Settlement and Removal 1662-1835, bastard children and of the apprenticing and boarding out of pauper children) (Dorset, England, Bastardy Records, 1821-1853. The original records are held at the Dorset History Centre)
(Warwickshire Parish Poor Law, 1546-1904: Bastardy bonds produced in association with Warwickshire County Record Office) (Warwickshire, Bastardy Orders, 1816-1839 produced in association with Warwickshire County Record Office) (Lincolnshire Parish Bastardy Cases)
Gloucestershire Archives' Genealogical Database (Records of the Overseers of the Poor including settlement papers, pauper apprenticeships and bastardy documents. Also try searching for a named individual at the Gloucestershire Archives Online Catalogue which includes the General Personal Names Index and other specialist indexes) (Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Register of Bastardy Orders, 1844-1885)
(East Sussex Record Office: Bastardy Bonds and Examinations. List of nearly 900 illegitimate children born to women in East Sussex between 1793 and 1834) (Online Parish Clerks: The project is run by volunteers who collect and transcribe parish records for a chosen Parish and make the data available for free online. The range of information covered includes Apprentice Indentures, Census Returns, Parish Registers, Bastardy Bonds, Settlement Certificates & Removal Orders, Militia/Muster records, Directories, Land Tax Assessments, Workhouse/Poor Law records, Churchwardens Accounts, Tithe Apportionments, Wills, Poor Rate Payers, Lay Subsidies, Protestation Returns, MIs, Church Memorials and Hearth Tax records. Old parish maps and photos are often included)

CD Roms (Warwickshire Poor Law Index)
Devon Family History Society (Rich man, poor man beggar-man, thief; A collection of over 63,000 entries from records held at Devon Record Office)
Berkshire Family History Society (Berkshire Overseers' Papers: Abbreviated transcripts of all the documents relating to the administration of the Poor Laws of Berkshire from 1601 to 1834 developed as part of the Berkshire Overseers Project. The CD contains comprehensive indexes for personal names, place names and occupations)
Parish Register Transcription Society (East Sussex Bastardy Papers 1545-1845, compiled by Michael Burchall)
Lincolnshire Family History Society (Lincolnshire Poor Law Index)
Cambridgeshire Family History Society (Poor Law & Apprenticeship Papers. An index of all surnames and forenames listed in parish and church records and databases which CFHS has published is available at their Super Search)
East Surrey Family History Society (Battersea Poor Law Records: Index to Orders of Justices 1700-1772 [Settlement] and Index to Apprenticeship Records 1602-1902)