Sources: Parish Chest documents; Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland Quarter Sessions; Boston Borough Quarter Sessions; Petty Sessions documents and minutes; Newspapers; Union Workhouse Minutes.

Bastardy Papers determined which adult male was to support a child. These can date from 1601 to 1839.

Document Types (1601-1839)

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. Examinations could be taken either before or after the birth of the child. Mostly found amongst the parish chest documents, but also found in Quarter Sessions files. After 1844, these will be found in any surviving Petty Sessions papers.

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. Parish chest documents and Quarter Sessions files.

Bastardy Recognizance - like a bail bond - the father is to appear at next Quarter Sessions and case continued until child born. Usually only found in the Quarter Sessions files.

Bastardy Summons - orders a Constable to bring a putative father to court. Parish chest documents and Quarter Sessions files.

Bastardy Order (also called Maintenance Orders or Filliation Orders) - made out after the child was born - gives details of the mother and putative father, usually the sex and date of birth of the child, plus to which parish it is chargeable. Found amongst the parish chest documents, but if appealed against they can be found in the Quarter Sessions files. After 1834 these may be noted in the Union Workhouse minutes.

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 his recognizance. Usually found in the Quarter Sessions files.

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. Many Bonds survive from the early 17th century. Mainly found amongst the parish chest documents.

Calendars of Sessions – found in the Quarter Sessions papers, these list the cases to be heard, including bastardy cases, often noting the result of the case. The same case may be continued for more than one sessions.

Notice of Application for Bastardy Order (used after 1834) - sent to the putative father to tell him that he would be summonsed. Usually found in the Quarter Sessions files only. Mention of these notices may be noted in the Union Workhouse minutes.

Most of the above documents were generated by the Overseers of the parishes concerned. All except the Notice of Application for a Bastardy Order were not used after 1834 when the Poor Law Amendment Act changed the way that Bastardy was dealt with.

From 1834 to 1839 the Guardians of the Union did the work that the Overseer had done, bringing putative fathers to the Quarter Sessions to obtain Bastardy Orders against them.

This example is from the Horncastle Workhouse Minutes [PL9/102/1 page 30]
28 March 1837. A similar application was made on behalf of the parish of Woodhall that they might proceed to obtain an order of Filiation on Henry Johnson for the maintenance of a Bastard Child of which Mary Dawson has been lately delivered and which has become chargeable to their parish and an order was made accordingly.

From 1839 to 1844 the Guardians continued to take these cases to court, but now to the Petty Sessions courts. If Petty Sessions minutes survive the evidence given in these cases may be found, and the cases may have been reported in a local or more widely based newspaper such as the Lincolnshire Chronicle or the Stamford Mercury.

This example is from the Sleaford Workhouse Minutes [PL12/102/1 page 311]
1 January 1839. Application for Orders of Bastardy. Ordered that the Clerk apply to the next Sessions at Sleaford and there enter and respite applications for Orders of Bastardy until the Easter Sessions in the following Cases.

Scredington - Sarah Barber for a child by John Searson.
South Kyme – Sarah Vessey for a child by John Towlson.

From 1844 to the mid 1860s these cases were taken out of the hands of the Guardians, and it was the mother who had to apply for a summons to bring the putative father to the Petty Sessions court, and she had to provide corroborative evidence. These cases were also widely reported in the newspapers. Take a look at our Bastardy Cases as reported in local newspapers. These give the names of the mother and putative father.

Sources at Lincolnshire Archives, other than newspapers, for Bastardy Cases after 1844 are as follows:

Lindsey Petty Sessions Applications for Summons re Bastardy 1849-1889 [LNPS 1/12 and 2/7]: These record the name of the mother and putative father and the mothers come from the parishes to the north of Lincoln. LNPS 2/7 gives the sex of the child from 1867 in many cases.

Caistor Workhouse Register of Bastardy Orders 1881-1906 [PL3/302] These give the same information as the Lindsey Petty Sessions Applications books, but with the addition of the date of birth of the child. Only the parishes in the Caistor Poor Law Union are included in this book.

Petty Sessions Minutes have survived as follows:

  • Alford 1858-1863, 1865-1927 and after [PS/ALFORD /1/1-38]
  • Lincoln City 1842 onwards [BROG/1/1 to 1/1/10]
  • Lincoln South (Kesteven Petty Sessions, Lincoln Division) 1856-1894, 1896-1900 and after [PS/LS/1/1-12]
  • Market Rasen 1849-1865, 1876-1878, 1898 onwards [PS/MARKET RASEN/1/1-14]
  • Sleaford Petty Sessions 1831-1871 [SLPS3/32-35]
  • Wragby 1887-1906, 1912 -1921, 1947 onwards [PS/Wragby/1/1-6]

Evidence taken at Bastardy Cases may appear in the above Petty Sessions minutes. The original sources mentioned above are only available at Lincolnshire Archives.

Bear in mind that many Bastardy cases did not get to court and therefore there is no documentation to be found.

A database of Lincolnshire Bastardy Cases may be searched at a pay per view website.


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