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Poor Laws Bastardy Papers

The ancient Germanic tribal custom was that a man was responsible for all children that were "his" until they became contributing members of the community. Obviously, some men stepped up and carried their responsibility and others shirked it or denied that the children were their's. But there was little privacy in a village and the whole community expected a man to do his duty. Some time prior to the 1600s, England began to formalize the process to protect the children of unwed mothers.

Note: Not all mothers needed a formal agreement for the care of their child. A man might make an agreement with her to pay some small amount each month until the child reached a certain age (typically 16). These were private agreements, oftened designed to protect the public character of both parties, and records of such agreements are almost non-existent. These agreements continued to be made after the Poor Law changes of 1834 went into effect.

Bastardy Bonds/Agreements determined which adult male was to support a child. Where a child was without parents, the parish would try and find an apprenticeship for them to relieve the burden on the parish funds. Not just the poor used the Apprenticeship system, but there was no record kept for most apprentices outside the poorlaws. These Bastardy Bonds/Agreements can date from 1601 to 1834 and are either in the parish deposits or in Quarter Session records in the Lincoln Archives.

The Poor Law system changed in 1834 when the Poor Law Unions were created. After 1834, bastardy cases were mainly dealt with at Quarter Sessions. After 1839, they were heard in Petty Sessions Courts. The only post-1834 records are Applications for Bastardy Orders for a part of Lindsey from 1849-1889 and for the Caistor Union from 1882 into the 1900s. There is also the Sleaford Petty Sessions Bastardy Order book from 1824-1839 which contains some Bourne Petty Sessions material from 1834. The Quarter Sessions contain Notices to putative fathers up to about 1839 (see Petty Sessions for post-1839). There is one list in the Holland Quarter Sessions files of Orders of Bastardy for 1867, found in an earlier file. All the above have been published by the LFHS, either as indexes or transcriptions (the later Caistor Orders up to 1902 was published in February 2003 in a second Poor Law Miscellany). The Lindsey Quarter Sessions material (including bastardy cases) from 1820 to 1848 is now published and available on microfiche and CD-ROM.

All DEPOSITED bastardy documents have been indexed. There may be some still held in the parishes. [Anne Cole]

Trying to find details of bastardy cases after 1839 is difficult. Bastardy bonds and other parish bastardy documents ceased to be used after 1834 when the Poor Law Unions were created. From 1834 to 1839 the Workhouse administrators initiated bastardy proceedings through the Petty and Quarter Sessions Courts, and from 1839 all bastardy cases were heard at Petty Sessions, and initiated by the mother, who had to produce corroborative evidence to convict the putative father. Unfortunately very few of these Petty Sessions records have survived in Lincolnshire. [Anne Cole]

After 1844: Only known sources in Lincolnshire are the Lindsey Petty Sessions Bastardy Orders book (after the birth) 1849-1889 (indexed in Poor Law Index Part 6 - Bastardy Documents) and Caistor Workhouse Register of Bastardy Orders 1881-1906 (1881-88 included in Poor Law Pt 6, 1889-1902 included in Poor Law Miscellany Vol. 2). 1903-1906 not published or indexed. Also bastardy cases from the Petty Sessions reports in local newspapers: Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury 1844-1846 are being published in the LFHS quarterly magazine. [Anne Cole]


Document Types:

The following categories or types of Bastardy Papers can assist the family historian:

If a bastard child died, the overseers of the parish in which it was legally settled would have paid for the burial, even in another parish. This should be noted in the Overseers' Accounts if they survive.

Bastardy payments would have been made until the child was of age to be apprenticed - fourteen at the most. If you have a copy of a bastardy order it should say for how long the money was to be paid. Payment was usually made to the parish supporting the child, but after 1834 some payments were made directly to the mother.



The Lincolnshire Archives hold a great number of these records. For many of them, the Lincolnshire Family History Society has published indexes of the individuals, primarily covering 1703 to 1840. The Holland Quarter Session bastardy fiche is an index to the actual documents, not abstracts like the Lindsey Quarter Session publications. With 31 pages of names (mothers) and another 31 pages of names (fathers) and roughly 60 names on a page there are about 1,860 women and the same number of men listed in that index. That's 1,860 bastardy cases from the Holland area. Sessions were held at Boston and Spalding for most years. The Index only gives the names of the mothers and putative fathers, the sex of the child (if known), type of document, reference and year.


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Last updated on 20-August-2007
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