Collect as much evidence as you can

This guide was last updated in 2009

You need to confirm from the outset that the evidence really is pointing in the direction of illegitimacy, and for this you need to gather together as many of the basic genealogical documents as you can.

If a father’s name is missing from a birth certificate, it could just be that the father failed to turn up to register the birth and came up against a particularly immovable official. And if the father’s name is missing from a marriage certificate, it could conceivably be that he disowned his child or that some major feud resulted in a blank space where his name ought to be. So it is a good idea to obtain both of these documents.

You might also supplement the birth certificate with a baptism record – baptism records are often fairly blunt, and it is not at all uncommon to find a child labelled as ‘a bastard’. And you can search for your ancestor on the census to see the context in which they are living – for example, are they at home with an unmarried mother, or obscurely listed as someone else’s child? (For more about searching for clues on the census, have a look at step 4).

It is these documents that will confirm your initial hunch, and provide a fuller picture of your ancestor’s situation. You can find these documents, or indexes to them, at several websites, including:

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