Trawling through records is difficult enough, but when you are trying to trace an illegitimate relative it can become disheartening. But now more bastardy records are available to search online.With the introduction of civil registration of births in 1837, the birth certificates of illegitimate children usually show only the name of the mother, who is the informant, though the name of the father may sometimes appear. From 1875 the registrar could not enter the name of the father, unless at the joint request of the father and mother, when the father also signed the register. When an illegitimate child marries it may leave blank the space for its father’s name, but it may then reveal the truth, if it has been learned in the meantime.To complicate things further for modern day searchers, it was all too easy to register the birth of an illegitimate child as though it were legitimate by inventing the name of a father. A woman may have invented a man with the same surname as herself (so that she is “Smith formerly Smith”) and given him her own father’s forename. A birth registered late by a woman may indicate that the child was illegitimate, particularly if a marriage cannot be found or if her husband’s surname is the same as her own.
More than 14,000 bastardy records held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service have been indexed and made available online at Ancestry. The records start from 1690 up to 1914 with documents including the maintenance of illegitimate children, bastardy bonds, and warrants for apprehending errant fathers who tried to escape responsibility for their children.
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