Price & Associates Genealogists: Bastardy or Illegitimacy in England

Richard Woodruff Price(From Ancestral Trails, original edition and Tate’s The Parish Chest)
Compiled Nov 2004 by Richard W. Price

Bastard is properly the base child of a father of gentle or noble birth, but more generally any illegitimate child; child born out of wedlock, base-born child; basterino; pack-saddle child; natural child; of natural birth; unfathered, etc.

Percentage of children born illegitimate in three different parishes in three different counties:
1588-1600 None
1601-1650 .69%
1651-1700 1.35%
1701-1750 1.96%
1751-1800 9.97%
1801-1835 6.18%

A child born out of wedlock is legitimated by the subsequent marriage of his parents

1837-1965 about 4-7% of births were illegitimate

It is suggested the increase in illegitimacy in the 18th century was caused by the rapid growth in ale houses 1730s to 1780’s. Peter Laslett in The World We Have Lost (1965) states” Our ancestors, by this test of bastards born and registered as such, were rather more moral sexually than are we ourselves.”

Where to find records of illegitimate children – especially the name and identity of the father:

The first and best place to locate information on illegitimacy, including the name of the father, was in the parish registers. 1538-present
Civil registration (birth and marriage certificates) 1837-present might name father, although note laws referenced below.

A parish Edgmond, Salop has a special bastard register 1797-1828

1614 Frendelesse the sonne of Joane Robinsonne base gotten as she saythe by one John Longe was baptysed the first day of November

1651 Roger ye sonne of I know not who was baptized I know not when
1652 12 June 1698 at Wolstanton, Staffs; Baptized Providence, an infant whom her father and mother abandoned; but God will take care of her

Vestry Minutes:

Bastardy bonds, bastardy orders or maintenance orders were often kept, showing the name of the father.

Fathers of illegitimate children were obliged by the parish to care for the child financially. Each case was handled differently. Sometimes there was a lump sum demanded to be paid to the parish (which then would care for the mother and child until the child reached adulthood – age of 21/18)
In 1800 in Stockton, Salop
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Price & Associates Genealogists: Busting Through the Genealogical “Wall”

When you’re in the business of genealogy, you sometimes have those cases that really try your research skills. That was definitely the case with William Dickins Cockerill. For many years, William’s paternity was a mystery. He was born in England, but immigrated to England as a young man. All William knew of his family was that his father was “Mr. Dickins” and his mother was “Mary Cockerill.”

With only that small seed of information to feed our search, we were able to locate William’s christening records in Kislingbury, Northamptonshire. According to record, William was christened on April 28 or 1823. Christening records during this time period reflect illegitimacy differently, and the father of the child is only sometimes identified. In the case of William, who was born out of wedlock, only his mother, Mary Cockerill is listened in the records.

Disappointed in the lack of information the christening records presented, we started digging deeper. We combed through documents from the Northamptonshire Country Record Office. These included the Quarter Sessions Record Books, Quarter Sessions Rolls and Kislinbury Charity Account. The charity accounts detailed payments to the poor within the parrish, but unfortunately, there was no mention of a Mary Cockerill or her child. However, we knew that Northampton, less than five miles from Kislingbury, held its own court of Quarter Sessions, and we wondered if perhaps Kislingbury might have fallen under the jurisdiction of Northampton Town Quarter Sessions, although we already knew that fewer records had survived this court than many others.

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Price & Associates Genealogists: Wills And Probate Records

As a genealogist, there are few public records that are more exciting than a will. Only a small percentage of the population left wills prior to the 20th century, although some sources speculate that during the 15th century as much as 70% of men did. By the late 17th century, however, as few as two percent of common citizens left a will. During this time in England, the succession of land was rather straightforward. Land generally passed from husband to wife (for the course of her life) and then to children and heirs. English women were barred from owning land until 1883, and even after, women rarely left wills unless they were widowed.

Regardless, this document can offer us a great deal of information. The creation of a will was left almost entirely to attorneys, who would be summoned by the property holder and given specific instructions. Once the will had been completed, the testator would sign in the presence of the attorney and two witnesses. In the case of more common folks, a parson or curate would often step in to record last wishes due to the sole fact that they were literate. Prior to 1837, when England passed the Wills Act, it was not uncommon for attorneys to forge signatures, especially if the testator was ill or incapacitated. The Wills Act also made it illegal for beneficiaries to witness the signing of a will.

Some of the more customary practices found in these wills include the donation of assets to churches and charities, which society saw as a moral obligation. This custom now helps lend genealogists important clues about testators– like where he grew up, attended school, apprenticed, or a number of other associations or organizations in which he may have participated. In the medieval times, it was customary to divide assets three ways, with a third going to each; the man’s wife, his oldest son and to charities, bells and masses.

While typically the oldest son received the largest portion of assets, it was not unlikely for younger sons to receive smaller inheritances, or for daughters to receive a cash sum to serve as a dowry. However, all children are not always included or named within a will. This is especially true of married children, who would have received their inheritance at the time of marriage.

In the case of unmarried men, we have found that landladies, nurse-keepers and others who have offered them care and nurturing, are frequently chief beneficiaries.

Furthermore, the description of relatives within the will can lend some confusion. In English records as well as early North American probate records, the term “son-in-law“ or “daughter-in-law” usually denoted a step-child, while those who married trueborn children are recognized simply as a son or daughter. Additionally, the word cousin may refer to any sort of relative. For example, Shakespeare described his granddaughter as his niece.

Before 1858, a large variety of courts proved wills. Most of these were ecclesiastical courts belonging to the Church of England. The Prerogative Courts of Canterbury or York held probate records of the wealthy and important. As genealogists, the indexes to these higher courts are always worthy of a search, as the courts were not confined to the wealthy. The best resource for wills is the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (P.C.C.), which took precedence of all other jurisdictions in England and Wales and holds records dating from 1383.

Lower courts of the diocese or peculiar or other jurisdictions exist in virtually every county, and many of these wills are now available online. Virtually all English and Welsh probate records are on microfilm at the LDS Family History Library. While the use of English and Welsh probate courts can be complicated, you can learn how to utilize these valuable resources by consulting the following sources: – Click on the country, then the county, then Probate records – Type in Wales Probates or England Probates to find articles with detailed descriptions of the British probate records. – Click on Search, then Wills & Probates

The National Wills Index is the largest on-line resource for pre-1858 English and Welsh probate material containing indexes, abstracts and sources documents, most not available anywhere else online. These date from the 14th century. It can be accessed at

After 1858, all English and Welsh wills were proved and housed in a central location. These are all indexed and the calendars are available on

Wills can be a wonderful resource to assist you in your search for possible ancestors. You should always check for a will, regardless of the socioeconomic class of the individual or family.

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Price & Associates Genealogists Case Study: Completing a Family Tree

Your Research Problem

I am interested in tracing the ancestry of my great-grandmother Maria Arabelle Underhill. I already have the names of her grandparents, but nothing beyond that. I would like you to extend her grandparents’ lines back seven generations on all lines if possible. I look forward to the results. – D. Allen of Encinitas, California

Price & Associates Proposal

Maria Arabelle’s grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. These can all be challenging areas, since most of this research will be for pre-1850 families. Our goal will be to find as much as we can in a standard $1200 research project.

Our Results

In one standard $1200 research project we were able to identify the parents, grandparents, and two great-grandparents for Isaac Underhill Maria Arabelle’s grandfather. We also identified the parents and grandparents for his wife Mary Lafferty in the same project. Hence, eight, and possibly ten names were added to Maria’s pedigree. The Underhill line was traced back to John Underhill, born 1681 in Tewkesbury, Gloucester, England.


Richard Price
Price & Associates Inc
15 West South Temple #570, Salt Lake City, UT 84101

Price & Associates Genealogists: Doing Genealogical Work

Price & Associates GenealogistsDo you know what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and former presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush have in common aside from being notable leaders? Along with other distinguished figures, they come from the same lineage traced back through genealogy.

Genealogy is the study of family lineages and history. Many people are interested in working on their genealogy as a hobby or with active intent to preserve the past for future generations, to identify origins and seek out interesting family information, among many reasons. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a responsibility taken seriously with the goal to identify deceased ancestors as far back and perform vicarious ordinances for them.

Aside from the satisfaction of getting the results of genealogical work, it also benefits those who do them in other ways. For one, discovering facts such as relation to remarkable people in history can be interesting and fun to cherish, not to mention boast of. Many American families find out that they have links to British genealogy, German genealogy or connections from anywhere around the world. Some people also feel a stronger affinity to family after doing family history work and a greater appreciation for those who have gone before them. Individuals and families who personally work on their genealogy also find that they not only reconnect with their kindred dead but with the living as well as they work together in mining information from living relatives and as they spend time together.

While many people personally work on their genealogy, professional genealogy research is also available. Professional genealogists provide their services to those who would like to do the work but are unable to do so for any reason and for those who need the extra help. There are times when personal research just comes to a dead end and this is when a genealogy professional can be of great help. Genealogy companies deliver by pooling the expertise of several researchers and having the resources to accomplish them. Missing information on ancestors from England and you can’t go on? Some genealogy companies have on-site researchers to do the work for you. By availing of specific research packages, you can get the answers you need to any genealogy concern. Professional genealogy services can also be used to obtain important historical records and conduct estate or missing heir research.

So do you want to find out which prominent figures you share a common lineage with? Start working on your genealogy now or let the genealogy professionals do it for you.

Richard Price
Price & Associates Inc
15 West South Temple #570, Salt Lake City, UT 84101