Illegitimate or Not? by Jeannette Holland Austin
Recently I was researching several related families in Wilkinson County. In each situation there was a daughter who had a child or two out of wedlock. So how do you find these things out? One instance, when the mother died, the chld was declared by the inferior court to be an orphaned illegitimate child. In another instance, the father was never found residing with the family and his child was given the mother's name. That seems pretty clear. But what about this? Everyone punches in birth and marriage dates on a genealogy computer program has been prompted that the child was born before the marriage. What to do here? I usually go to the original marriage certificate in the county where the marriage occurred. In Georgia, the top portion represents the date the license was issued and the bottom portion represents the actual ceremony date. The transcriber sometimes misses the latter. Another place to search is in the deed records for marriage contracts of deeds of gift where relationships are defined. Check the names of the witnesses to all deed transactions. In the computer-generated error, was the child illegitimate? It is wise to give the matter serious consideration, especially because in the old days women were ostracized by their families and disowned for such behavior. This means that she would no home and would not be accepted anywhere. News such as this was blatently published in local newspapers in the worst sort of way. Mary Childs and her illegimate son were added to the Poor House Fund or My wife has left my bed and board and I will not be responsible for her debts. What woman, then, would want to be turned away from the comfort and care of her family members? For this reason, we have to search for an error somewhere before accepting the news.
Not so today, however. How many formal weddings have you attended where the bride was quite pregnant and wearing a white gown? Society today simply does not have the morals which were so important in past generations.
Jeannette Holland Austin
, Georgia Author of Genealogy Books
Georgia County Records (digital images) wills, estates, marriages
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