So you're researching your ancestry, and you find your ancestor's birth record. You find that his mother wasn't married when he was born. What do you do?
When statutory registration was introduced in Scotland under the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1854, particular rules were enacted for children whose parents were unmarried. Apart from the stigma of having the word "illegitimate" recorded, the other main rule relevant to family history research was about recording the father's name. Section 35 of the Act was clear:
XXXV. In the Case of an illegitimate Child it shall not be lawful for the Registrar to enter the Name of any Person as the Father of such Child, unless at the joint Request of the Mother and of the Person acknowledging himself to be the Father of such Child, and who shall in such Case sign the Register as Informant along with the Mother: Provided always, that when the Paternity of any illegitimate Child has been found by Decree of any competent Court, the Clerk of Court shall, within Ten Days after the Date of such Decree, send by Post to the Registrar. of the Parish in which the Father is or was last domiciled, or in which the Birth shall have been registered, Notice of the Import of such Decree in the Form of the Schedule (F.) to this Act annexed, or to the like Effect, under a Penalty not exceeding Forty Shillings in case of Failure; and on Receipt of such Notice the Registrar shall add to the Entry of the Birth of such Child in the Register the Name of the Father and the Word "Illegitimate," and shall make upon the Margin of the Register opposite to such Entry a Note of such Decree and of the Import thereof; and in like Manner in the event of any Child registered as illegitimate being subsequently found by Decree of any competent Court to be legitimate, the Clerk of Court shall notify such Decree to the Registrar, in the Form as nearly as may be of the said Schedule (F.), who shall forthwith make upon the Margin of the Register in which the Birth is entered, and opposite to such Entry, a Note of such Decree and of the Import thereof, under a Penalty not exceeding Forty Shillings in case of Failure.
So in general, the father's name could not be recorded unless the father agreed and attended the Registry Office to sign the register himself. The only exception was where paternity was fixed by a court order. This can prove frustrating for family historians who may feel that they have hit what is colloquially known as a brick wall.
Fortunately, though, these brick walls may not always be insurmountable. And the reason is - as much in life - all about money. Until 1845 - and in many parts of Scotland for some time thereafter - poor relief was at least partly the responsibility of local parishes (as we have previously written about). Of course, Kirk Sessions considered themselves the moral guardians of Scottish society, and were keen to root out what they considered immoral behaviour. But, rarely flush with money at the best of times, they were also always anxious to ensure that children did not become a burden on the parish. This was a major factor in their strong desire to identify fathers of illegitimate children.
Kirk Session minutes are full of mothers dragged before the session to name the fathers of their children. We were curious about how often it was possible to identify fathers not named in birth records. We decided to look at Fife in the first 20 years of statutory registration. The table below shows the results we've had so far
These figures are still provisional. Many fathers are identified in the records of parishes other than those where the child was born (a little over half of the total), so we expect the final figures to be considerably higher. (There are around 60 parishes in Fife: so far we've only looked at ten of them). Already though, significant variations are emerging, and we will continue to look at the remaining parishes over the next few weeks.
Genealogy and Family History - A mix of our news, curious and intriguing discoveries. Research hints and resources to grow your family tree in Scotland from our team.