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
– See more at:


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