Unlocking Your Past - Spring Family History Day


This event, organised by Cleveland, North Yorkshire & South Durham Family History Society, was held on Saturday 26th April at the Holiday Inn, Scotch Corner. The day began with an early morning dog walk in beautiful springtime sunshine following an evening of heavy rain. By 8 o clock however, when it was time to leave for the show, the sky was grey, the mist came down and the showers began. After a miserable drive I was lucky to arrive at the venue between showers. Ruth Hobbins, our Archives Manager, was anxiously awaiting my arrival and we quickly unloaded the car and set up our stand in time for a welcome cup of coffee before the visitors arrived.

The day was organised around three talks which were held in the same room as the stands. This arrangement meant that visitors were able to view the stands before the morning talk, during lunch break and afternoon coffee break and we were able to sit down and enjoy the talks. 

Eve McLaughlin visits our stand.Eve McLaughlin was the first speaker of the day. Eve is Secretary and Editor for the Bucks Genealogical Society, author of the long series of 'McLaughlin Guides for the Family Historian' and has been a professional genealogist for upwards of 60 years. The title of her talk was 'Illegitimacy and Adoption, Historical Background'. It would seem that, over the centuries, the emphasis has always been on finding the father and making him pay for the support of the child, at least among the poor and middle classes, and it would appear that this was accomplished far more effectively than it is today. The reputed father had three choices - Marry the woman willingly, be arrested and jailed and forced into marriage or refuse if he had a good reason, eg. if he was already married, in which case a Bastardy Bond would be issued. If he denied paternity the case would be determined by the Bastardy Examination board, often made up of the Church Warden And Overseers. The woman had to give full details of her relationship with the man including dates and places where the 'connection' took place. Witnesses could be brought by both parties in regard to the relationship. If paternity was proved a Bastardy Bond was issued. These bonds were for a sum of money to be paid weekly to the Parish, for the upkeep of the child, until the child was old enough to be apprenticed out.  

Prior to 1840 Bastardy Orders may be found in the 1/4 Session Records. Later Bastard Examination Record Books were used.  The Bonds were kept in the Parish Chest and have mostly been destroyed.

In the Parish Registers every effort was made to enter a fathers name to prevent later intermarriages and the birth of Children of Incest who were reputed to be marked by the Devil. In some areas relationship with ones Godparent was considered incestuous.

Things were different for the upper classes. The wife was expected to produce an heir and a spare and then .......  A bastard child of a married woman was legally her husbands child and the bastard child of a widow was named for her husband. These children, however, although entitled to inherit,  were not allowed to inherit land or titles. when Queen Victoria  came to the throne she expected all marriages to be like her own so bastardy among the middle and upper classes had to be kept secret. If pregnant girls were put away in an asylum or sent abroad for a period of time.

From 1905 illegitimate children could be legalised if parents had married and were both still alive. 

In 1926 adoptions became legal. One of the precursors to this was the number of men who were sterile after being gassed during WW1. Following adoption no further contact was allowed with natural parents and if adopted as a baby the child could be renamed. Adopted Children could inherit from adopted parents but not from natural parents. From 1974 adopted children aged 21 + over (now 18 + over) can, following counselling, be given details of natural parents and from 1984 natural parents could find their children and meet if both parties were willing.

At the end of Eve's talk Ann Fell, Chairman of CFHS, announced that the Teesside Archives stand displayed examples of Bastardy Bonds and Bastardy Examinations. This resulted in many visitors to the stand and we were also able to show an index of Bastardy Examinations held at the Archives, thanks to our volunteers Sandy Rushmer and Vicky Collier who prepared it. 

 The first speaker after lunch was Jackie Depelle, Chairman of the Yorkshire Group of Family History Societies, speaking on 'Ideas for Organising Your Family History Research'. Jackie described in detail the various methods of recording our family history, from hand written records to dedicated computer programs, manyof which now enable information to be presented in a book format. We were also introduced to scrapbook recording which many of us had not been aware of. This entails dedicating a page to a person, and entering their details and arranging memorabilia, e.g. photographs, certificates, press cuttings, picture associated with their trade, map showing where they lived etc,. 

Member Janice Burke (L) with Anne Marshall - Committee MemberThroughout her talk Jackie stressed the importance of keeping accurate records of sources i.e. where and when found,description (eg book, film, certificate). reference details (e.g. book - title, author, ISBN no. page no,), repository's reference / catalogue no. for item and finally record where you have stored your sources, We were also reminded of the importance of keeping backups of computerised records, preferably 3 including one in a separate location. It is also advisable to keep a hard copy. 

Following Jackie' talk, and a welcome coffee break, we had Eve again with 'Making Ends Meet' describing how our ancestors coped with a shortfall in the amount of money for basic living expenses. Eve described some of the places where help may have been available eg Parish Relief, local charities, and Friendly Societies. However if you didn't meet the criteria, ie you were known to drink too much or didn't attend the right church often enough, there was always the Pawnbroker or, one I hadn't heard of. 'gnawing it out',  e.g. Fred the ploughman needs new shoes for his horse but he has no money and nothing he can give the blacksmith in exchange so he offers to labour for the coal man filling his coal sacks. In return the coal man gives the blacksmith some coal and the blacksmith gives Fred his horseshoes. 

We tend to associate poverty with the working class so it was interesting to discover how easily the landed gentry could be reduced to poverty. If for instance a will included money bequests, perhaps to younger siblings, the heir to the land and property, which was usually entailed, may have to borrow money to honour the bequests. He would expect to repay the loan from the sale of his crops but if the crops failed he would have to borrow more money to pay the initial loan and cover his expenses until the next harvest. This often resulted in the descending spiral into poverty which we see too often today. 

An extremely interesting day came to an end and it was time to pack up and head for home so, of course, having sat all afternoon with the sun shining through the many windows, down came the rain. Many thanks CFHS for a well organised and enjoyable event.

Anne Clayton