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 reliable 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 was 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 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.
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.
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, Lydia, Albert, William, Elizabeth, Catherine, Henry, Jane, John, and Annie E.
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 to be 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?
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.
It appears that both Henry and Rebecca had died by 1851 (tbc).
Between 1833 (marriage), and 1851 census, Henry and Rebecca, had the following 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, 1881, 1901
- Allen c1840
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. Unfortunately the less common names, tend to be used in most of the Hinchcliffe families.
1851, 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, her son Charles aged 4, and Uncle Joe Hinchliffe aged 22. They lived in Huddersfield. The adults were working in the textile trade. ( The
Ann’s brothers, Joe aged 13 and William 7, were living with widowed Aunt, Harriet Hobson, aged 27, and young children John, Lydia, and Sarah A, also widowed Grandfather John Hinchcliffe aged 64 all living in Honley.
This leads to further questions. As the grandparents were both widowed, 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 Hinchcliffes father as yet, but as a result of this research, I have corrected the mistake I made as to Ann Hinchcliffes parents.
My next ancestor, with no documented father, was Mary Ann Lee, my gt gt gt Grandmother, born 1817 in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, to Elizabeth Lee.
Mary Ann married Thomas Darlow 31st December 1835.
To be continued….