St Catherines Articles

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Registration of Births out of Wedlock

There are many certificates that are clearly for illegitimate children, as the father is not named. The child therefore has the mother's surname. Between 1837 and 1875, the mother could state the name of the father if she wished, and he would be included in the certificate. From 1875 the father had to appear at the registry himself to certify paternity, and give the child his name.

If the couple wanted to, there was nothing to stop them registering the child in the man's name, even if not married (except possibly respect for the law, or for the local knowledge of the registrar). A marriage certificate did not need to be produced to register a child.

Under the Legitimacy Act 1926 it became possible in the eyes of the law for children to take their father's name after registration if he married the mother. This was done by a second registration that would have to be searched for separately.

Divorce was very rare until the 1920s, and not common till the late 1940s. Common law marriages were probably more usual than we now recognise.

People who had families with a new partner, after separating from their spouses, had to wait until their first spouse died to remarry legally, and were then able to legitimise their children. In these cases the children might only take their father's surname when their parents married.

A way round this, was for the mother to change her surname to that of the father, so that any children also had the same name and thus appeared legitimate. Changes of name for this purpose are very difficult to find, as it could be done quietly (and quite legally), or even casually. If people did this, they are unlikely to leave an obvious paper trail behind them.

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