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Thursday, 9 April 2015

A-Z Challenge: I for Illegitimacy & Irregular Marriages

 A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

ILLEGITIMACY - I am sure this must be  feature in many a family history down the generations.  On the ScotlandsPeople website is this very useful page   Illegitimate Births and Baptisms in Scotland. 

In the course of research into my mother's Danson family,  I came across this document at Lancashire Record Office which identified such a case. My  ancestor John Danson, aged 21   in 1810  was served with an affiliation order ordering him to contribute to the upkeep of his “said bastard child”  - a daughter by Ann Butler of Marton.   A forerunner of the child Support Agency!

The poor child was repeatedly given this tag in the document below which  is fascinating on its choice of language:

“Ann Butler, single woman, was upon the 27th day of August last, delivered of a female bastard child in the said township of Marton…and that John Danson, husbandman of Carleton did begot the said bastard on her body and is the father of the same.

Thereupon, we order… for the better relief of the said township…and the sustenance and relief of the said bastard child…John Danson pay unto the churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor…the sum of One Pound Eighteen Shillings for and towards the charges and expenses incident to the birth…further sum of four shillings towards the cost of apprehending and securing the said John Danson….the sum of Two Shillings weekly…towards the keeping, sustenance and maintenance of the said bastard child”.

 Unfortunately I have been unable to trace anything further on this story.  John Danson died in 1836, aged 46, as far as I know unmarried and predeceased his father Henry by three years.  Ann Butler of course may well have married. 

The term "Natural Son" you see in documents puzzled me for some time, but it  means "Illegitimate, born out of wedlock".  

IRREGULAR MARRIAGES  are  a feature of Scottish family history.

A “regular marriage was conducted before  witnesses by a church minister,  following the reading of banns   An "irregular marriage" did not require an established clergyman and only required that both parties gave consent.  No notice nor a waiting period  was required.  Such marriages were  valid in Scotland, but often frowned upon and over time they became less and less acceptable.

An “irregular” or “clandestine” marriage was in the form of a verbal declaration.   The British Parliament outlawed the practice in 1753 with the introduction of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act.  However this did not apply to Scotland.   As a result, many English couples eloped to Scotland to obtain a quick and easy marriage. Toll houses on the Scottish-English border became “centres” for irregular marriages - at Annan and Gretna in Dumfriesshire and at Coldstream and Lamberton in Berwickshire.

In 1856 Lord Brougham’ s Marriage Act imposed a residental qualification of 21 days for least one of the partners, which made it more difficult for couples outwith the area. Irregular marriages were not formally abolished until 1940.

Because no minister was required, few records were kept of the event and few have survived 

Such a marriage might not come to light until the first child was born and the parents sought baptism for their children. They were summoned to the Kirk Session, confessed their fault, and werebuked, exhorted, and ordered to pay the charges'”. The charges went to the poor box, the normal fees for a regular marriage were then paid, and the marriage was thus regularised.  As a result, note of irregular marriages can sometimes be found in Old Parish Registers and in Kirk Session records.

So if you think your ancestors may have taken part in an irregular marriage, contact the Scottish Borders Archive Service at archives@scotborders.gov.uk or have a look at the Research Guide produced by the National Records of Scotland. 

And in this I of the A-Z Challenge, how could I fail to mention the INTERNET. 
Where, as family historians,  would be  be without it? 


 Onto J for Jobs & Jewellery 



  1. Interesting topics, Sue. Both of these can make tracing ancestors a challenge. Are you familiar with the BBC History Extra Podcast? A little while back, they had an episode on illegitimacy as a historical and cultural phenomenon.

  2. Too bad you couldn't trace the history of John & Ann. Did he contest the order to pay? How did Ann prove the child was his? No DNA testing back then to know for sure? Continuing on to Irregular Marriage - I'm wondering how it differs from Handfasting?

  3. Here in the US irregular marriages were called Common law marriages. Both partners were recognized as married by the community but it also wasn't the favorite method of marrying.


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