Poor Laws Bastardy Papers


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. These can date from 1601 to 1834.

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:

  • Bastardy Examination - mother examined before a magistrate, or by midwife whilst in labour (early 18th century) to determine the name of the child's father.
  • Bastardy Warrant - Constable ordered to find the man named by the mother and bring him before magistrate to organise recognizance - OR - to find the putative father who has absconded, escaped from custody, hasn't paid up, etc.
  • Bastardy Recognizance - like a bail bond - the father is to appear at next Quarter Sessions and case continued until child born.
  • Bastardy Summons - tells a Constable to bring a man to court.
  • Bastardy Order - made out after the child was born - gives details of who is to pay what. An example of Bastardy orders can be seen at: Lincolnshire Lent Assizes.
  • Bastardy Certificate - overseers of parish to which the child is chargeable certify that the man has paid up - OR - certifies that an Order has been made out - in both cases the father is released from the recognizance.
  • Bastardy Bond - entered into by a bondsmen and sureties to say that they will indemnify the parish to which the child is chargeable from all costs (mainly found before 1800).
  • Notice of Application for Bastardy Order (used after 1834) sent to the putative father (Quarter Sessions only).

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.

  • To purchase the Lincolnshire FHS indexes, the LFHS recommends using the Federation of Family History Societies Bookstore, which allows purchase by Credit Card.
  • "An Introduction to Poor Law Documents before 1834" by Anne Cole is available from the Federation of Family History Societies.
  • Family Tree Magazine has books on this subject: Eve McLaughlin's "Illegitimacy" and "Annuls of the Poor" deal with pre-1834 poor law. £2 each.
  • "The Parish Chest" by W. E. Tate, 1983, 3rd edition, published by Phillimore & Co Ltd. (ISBN 0 85033 507 8), 400 pages for £20 that should be available at all good libraries.
  • "The Handy Book of Parish Law", first published in 1859 and republished by the Wiltshire FHS is available from the Federation of FHS.
  • Also, take a look at our Bastardy Cases as reported in local newspapers. These give the names on the mother and father.