Father Unknown.

  • Mary Ann Hinchcliffe 1836
  • Mary Ann Lee 1816
  • Charles 1836, Sarah 1843 and Henry 1848 Sanderson (intrigue).

This page describes the difficulties encountered in geneaological research when the father is unknown or not documented.

Family historians get a great sense of satisfaction when they discover the parents of an ancestor, pushing the geneaological line back another generation. Unfortunately this is short lived in the case of ancestors, where no father is given.

In most of these cases, discovering who the father was, will prove impossible, leaving a gap in the ancestry, which gets bigger, as each generation is pushed further back.

Virtually everyone will discover an illegitimate ancestor at some point in their research.

Today, DNA can be used to prove paternity, by comparing and checking against other relatives. But the further back we go in our ancestry the less likely DNA evidence can be in finding our ancestors, due to distance of time, the way it is inherited, and in finding other relatives that the DNA can be checked against.

On this page, I will attempt to uncover the identity of the fathers of my illegitimate ancestors, although it is unlikely to be possible. I will describe the steps or sources which could be used.

I will also include non direct ancestral relatives who do not have documented father’s.

Suggestions for identifying a father

  • Birth Certificate in normal circumstances, the father’s name would be entered on the birth certificate. In the case of unmarried parents, the father can only be included with his permission.
  • Baptismal entry – Before birth certificates were introduced, these were the ‘official’ records of a person’s existence. The father was usually entered in the baptism book. Unfortunately not often in the case of illegitimate children, although sometimes both parents were included if unmarried. This was the case of my ancestor Joseph Lovell Raine, born to Joseph Lovell and Elizabeth Raine, in Kensington. At other times, the Vicar may include ‘reputed father’ or similar.
  • Marriage certificate – The father’s name is given on the marriage certificate (if it is known), however this should be treated with caution, as the information could be false, or may perhaps be of a step father, as in the case of my ancestor, Mary Ann Hinchcliffe (and her step father, Alfred Corker).
  • Census records – The individual may have lived with or near, the birth father, or perhaps, (step) siblings, may have lived with him. There may be siblings with different surnames in one home to research.
  • Bastardy Bonds – Parish Overseers of the poor, would do their best, to get payment for the support of illegitimate children and the mother, from the father of the child, and this information would be recorded in the parish records, as ‘Bastardy Bonds’.
  • Wills – A will might describe family relationships, and include illegitimate or distant relations. For example the will of Joshua Hartley of 1803, which included his step-son Joseph ‘Helliwell’ Sanderson’, born before his parents marriage.

Mary Ann Hinchcliffe

The first of my ancestors discovered to have an undocumented father, was my Gt Gt Grandmother, Mary Ann Hinchcliffe born 1853 in Honley, Yorkshire.

Charles Gillott and Mary Ann marriage 1876.

She married my ancestor Charles Gillott 17th September 1876 at St Marys Church Walkley. At this time, she was a 23 year old widow with a young son, John William Moorhouse born c1873, who was entered on the 1881 census, as stepson to Charles Gillott.

As yet, we have not located her first marriage, or husbands name.

The marriage certificate states her father to be Alfred Corker. This information sent us on a wild goose chase for some time, as we were unable to find a Mary Ann Corker born at the right time. By following census records we discovered Alfred Corker was actually her step father – according to the 1861 census.

1861 census

Alfred Corker married Ann Hinchcliffe in 1859. I wondered whether Alfred was infact Mary Ann’s father, and she was born before their marriage, but the gap between her birth and his marriage to her mother is rather large. The 1861 census, also states Mary Ann to be ‘wife’s daughter’. Alfred and Ann, had further children, Lydia1859, Albert 1860, William George 1864, Elizabeth 1868, Catherine, Henry 1872, Jane 1875, John 1878, and Annie E 1887.

1859, Marriage of Ann Hinchcliffe and Alfred Corker.

Perhaps Ann had been previously married, to a Mr Hinchcliffe, and Mary Ann was their daughter.

The marriage certificate of 25th May 1859, states she was 23 years old, and her father was Henry Hinchliffe a wheelwright.

Ann is pretty well documented in census records, as Ann Hinchcliffe, so this is not the case.

She was baptised 12th June 1836 at Almondsbury, Yorkshire, to Henry and Rebecca Hinchliffe. Henry a Joiner and living at Halling?

Baptism of Ann Hinchcliffe 1836.
1841 census entry.

In 1841, Henry Hinchliffe aged 32 (born c1809), a joiner, with wife Rebecca, 25, and children, George, 7, Ann, 5, Joseph, 4, and Allen, 1, were all living at Ludhill, Farnley Tyas.

Farnley Tyas is a small village between Honley and Almondsbury, near Huddersfield. This place although not well known, may help identify family members.

It appears that both Henry and Rebecca had died by 1851 (tbc).

Between 1833 (marriage), and 1851 census, Henry and Rebecca, had the following (known) children –

  • George bapt. October 26th 1834 at Almondbury All Hallows (living at Honley), to Henry and Rebecca. (Henry a Joiner). Married Lydia Taylor 27th March 1853, at Almondsbury All Hallows. Lived at Honley, Father Henry a Joiner. 1841, 1881.
  • Ann c1836 see below.
  • Joseph bapt. 1st August 1838, at Honley St Mary with Brockholes St George. lived at (Hall ing)?, to Henry a cabinet maker and Rebecca. Married Nancy Fox at Thornhill St Michael & All Angels, 28th December 1857. Joseph a miner, living at Middle Town. Father Henry a labourer. 1841, 1861,1881, 1901
  • Allen c1840, 1841, 1851, 1861
  • William c1842, 1851, 1861

Although it is difficult to determine whether the following entries belong to these individuals, due to discrepancies in some ages, other factors do seem to confirm. The Hinchcliffes use both common, and less common forenames, which has made the identification of families difficult. Unfortunately the less common names, tend to be used in most of the local Hinchcliffe families.

1851, it appears the family had been split between various relations. Ann aged 14 and Allen 12 were living with their widowed Grandmother Mary Hinchcliffe aged 63, Aunt Elizabeth (Halstead) 34 and her son Charles aged 4, and Uncle Joe Hinchliffe aged 22. They lived in Huddersfield. The adults were working in the textile trade.

1851 census Ann Hinchcliffe
1851 census Hinchliffe family.

Ann’s brothers, Joe aged 13 and William 7, were living with widowed Aunt, Harriet Hobson, aged 27, and her young children John, Lydia, and Sarah A, also widowed father John Hinchcliffe aged 64 all living in Honley. William born at Farnley Tyas.

In 1861, Joseph aged 23, Allen 19, and William 17, were in the same household as brothers.

However, there is also confusion, as further investigation of the 1841census suggests, Ann, Allen and Joseph were entered into the census twice. In the household of their parents Henry and Rebecca, and of (grandparents), John and Mary Hinchliffe. This is unusual, but not unheard of.

1841 John Hinchcliffe page 1
1841 John Hinchcliffe page 2

It may be taken that Ann, Allen and Joseph were children of John and Mary, in 1841, but it seems strange that in 1851, Joseph and William were entered as nephews, in this same household.

As the grandparents were both widowed in 1851, why did they have the same ‘Hinchcliffe’ surname? It would follow that one of them ought to be a ‘Jackson’. At present, the explanation would be that Grandmother, had remarried to a Mr Hinchcliffe.

The two families were living in different towns, (Huddersfield and Honley), although in roughly the same part of the country.

For several generations, the members of this family, have moved around to different locations in this part of Yorkshire, making confirmation of them difficult. Although they state different places in births, marriages, deaths and census records, these places are close enough to each other, to also be classed under the same umbrella.

The 1851 census shows that Ann was a ‘Hinchcliffe’ and therefore was unmarried at Mary Ann’s birth in 1853.

The birth certificate of Mary Ann Hinchcliffe, shows she was born to Ann Hinchliffe at Honley Workhouse on 5th July 1853. This would make Ann just 17 years old. As no father was mentioned, we can presume she was illegitimate, the place of birth – the Workhouse would seem to bear this out.

An online search of the West Yorkshire ‘Bastardy Bonds’, which may reveal a father’s name, does not reveal any information.

Back to census’ records for Mary Ann, to confirm her date and place of birth.

  • 1911 Mary Ann Gillott, wife of Charles, aged 58, (c1853), married 35 years, 10 children, 6 living. Born Sheffield.
  • 1901 Mary Ann Gillott, wife of Charles, aged 48, (1853) Born Grenoside. NB John Corker aged 22, in household.
  • 1891 Mary A. Gillott wife of Chas. Aged 37 (1854). Born Sheffield. NB. John William Moorhouse stepson of Charles in household.
  • 1881 Mary A. Gillott wife of Charles. Aged 28 (1853). Born Grenoside. NB. John William Moorhouse stepson of Charles in household.
  • 1871 Mary Ann Hinchcliffe, Aged 17 (1854), A general domestic servant in the house of Widow, Sarah Marsden, and her son, a professor of music, Cemetery Road, Ecclesall Bierlow. Born Sheffield.
  • 1861 Mary Ann Hinchcliffe. Aged 7 (1854), wife’s daughter, to Alfred Corker. 83 Collier Row, Sheffield. Born Honley.

Unable to make any further progress with Mary Ann Hinchliffes father as yet, but as a result of this research, I have corrected the mistake I made as to Ann Hinchliffes parents.

My next ancestor, with no documented father, was Mary Ann Lee, my gt gt gt Grandmother, born 1816 in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, to Elizabeth Lee. She was baptised at Long Buckby on 18th October 1816. The vicar described her as ‘base born’ leaving no doubt that she was illegitimate.

Baptism of Mary Ann Lee.

She was born 25 years before national censuses were introduced, and 21 years before civil registration began, so information which could be gleaned from birth or marriage certificates is non existent.

Further investigation revealed another illegitimate child born to Elizabeth Lee in 1811. Although Elizabeth Lee, was a reasonably common name, it seems likely that she was the mother of both John Line and Mary Ann.

John Line Lee was born 6th June, and baptised August 26th 1811 at Long Buckby.

Baptism of John Line Lee.

Mary Ann married Thomas Darlow 31st December 1835. The Darlows were a local family, of Brickmakers, with something of a reputation.

The Darlows have been extremely well researched, through a distant relative, discovered in the course of our research.

1841 Census entry.
  • The 1841 census of Long Buckby, shows Mary Ann Darlow, aged 20 with three children, William 4, Ann 2 and Thomas aged 4 months. Husband Thomas Darlow is not at home. Unknown where he was at this time.
  • Next door were Elizabeth Baucutt widow, aged 43, with three children, David 11, Lewis 8 and Harriet 6.
  • This appears to be Mary Ann’s mother (Elizabeth Lee). She married Alfred Baucutt on 23rd August 1824 in Long Buckby. Elizabeth was stated to be a single woman.
Marriage entry for Elizabeth Lee and Alfred Baucutt.
1851 Census Entry for Thomas and Mary Ann Darlow.
  • 1851 Thomas and Mary Ann Darlow, and five children, were living in Aston, Birmingham. Ann 12, Eliza 8, George 4, Thomas 2, Harriet 1 month. (It appears that the older Thomas from 1841, had died).
  • Elizabeth Baucutt aged 57, was still living in Long Buckby with children, Lewis, Harriet and grandson William Darlow.
1851 census Elizabeth Baucutt.
  • In 1861 Census, Elizabeth Baucutt was 66, with children, Lewis and Harriet (a pauper invalid).
  • Mary and Thomas Darlow had moved on to Sheffield, with their family of six children, where they became settled.
1861 census Elizabeth Baucutt.
1861 Mary Ann Darlow census in Sheffield.
  • In 1871, Thomas and sons were brickmakers in Sheffield.
1871 census entry.
  • In 1881 Thomas Darlow was a Beer House Keeper.
1881 census.

Sanderson Intrigue

Joseph and Sarah (Helliwell) Sanderson, had eight children between 1794 and 1815. The oldest child Joseph was born before their marriage, and was always known as Joseph ‘Helliwell’. The will of Joseph snr. Step father Joshua Hartley in 1803, confirmed Joseph Helliwell as a full sibling to the others. Joseph snr and Sar married in 1797.

Three of the children died in infancy, and two ( George and John), married and had large families.

The three other children, Joseph Helliwell b.1794, Zacharius b.1812 and Mary b. 1815, did not marry, and continued to live together, probably in the family home, until their deaths.

Mother, Sarah died in 1828, and father, Joseph in 1832.

The 1841 census wasn’t easy to decipher, and we presumed that Zacharius Sanderson had married a Mary, and they had a son Charles, living in the house of Joseph Helliwell. We did not realise that Joseph Helliwell, was brother to Zacharius and Mary, as we hadn’t got that far with our researches. (We were more interested in finding out about George Sanderson and family two households away, who was a direct ancestor). We later discovered that George was brother to Joseph Helliwell, Zacharius and Mary.

1841 census Low Bradfield.

However the 1851 census, certainly began to raise questions. Joseph Helliwell was head, Zacharius Sanderson was brother, and Mary Sanderson, sister. All three were unmarried. By this time, there was not only 15 year old nephew Charles, but also 3 year old nephew Henry.

Who were the parents to Charles and Henry?

  • Zacharius or Mary?
  • Or perhaps children of their brothers, George and John. George’s wife Martha had died 1847, so perhaps George had required help caring for his large family. But neither of these children seemed to fit into his family. John had died in 1845, so perhaps his wife Annis needed help. She went on to have three further children after the death of John, but again, these children do not fit into the family.
  • Searching the parish records, the baptism and subsequent burial of Sarah Sanderson to Mary Sanderson of Low Bradfield in 1843 stood out. Until then, we hadn’t been able to place this baptism and burial. The fact that the child was named ‘Sarah’, after Mary’s mother, helped to identify.
1851 census Low Bradfield.

The 1861 census, only added more questions. Joseph Helliwell was described as ‘Head’, with Zacharius as ‘brother in law,’ and Mary as ‘ditto’. Charles and Henry still in the household as nephews.

This made us consider that Zacharius had married Joseph Helliwell’s sister, Mary Helliwell.

However, we came to understand that, brother or sister ‘in law’ was an old way of describing step brother or sister.

1861 census Low Bradfield.

Charles married Hannah Maria Dronfield in 1863, but no father was entered on the marriage certificate for him. They had six children, four of whom died as infants or young children.

Joseph Helliwell died on February 18th 1869. He was buried in Bradfield Churchyard.

The 1871 census shows Zacharius Sanderson living next door to Charles and his family. Mary is stated to be his sister, and Henry his son. All UNMARRIED. So is this true: an oversight by Zacharius: or the enumerator: or did the enumerator know something that wasn’t spoken of.

1871 Census.

In 1879 Charles died.

(It appears that Henry married Elizabeth Hudson in 1880, but Elizabeth died several months later, leaving a Will.) This may not be the same Henry

1881 Census

In 1881 Zacharius was still living next door to Charles wife and sons. Mary was stated to be sister, and Henry nephew. In every census, Mary’s occupation is given as female servant, domestic servant or housekeeper.

On February 18th 1882, Zacharius died, and Mary died September 21st 1883. All three siblings were buried in Bradfield Churchyard. Their headstone appears to have been added later, as the deaths were not recorded in date or order of birth.

Headstone to Joseph Helliwell, Zacharius Sanderson and Mary Sanderson in Bradfield Churchyard.

To be continued….