Documenting the World of Outlander 3.5: Documenting 18th Century Child Support Records

Contributed by Correspondence Archivist Alison Thurman and Records Analyst Josh Hager

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the last few episodes of Outlander Season Six!

Outlander Season 6 has ended with a real cliffhanger! As we process the events of the last episode we would like to look back to the beginning of one of the current storylines. The April 10th episode of Outlander concluded with a shocking accusation from Malva Christie. Malva, when confronted with the discovery that she is with child, accused Jamie of fathering her unborn baby. For many viewers this turn of events might bring indignant thoughts to mind in defense of poor Jamie Fraser. The Frasers certainly have had an uneasy relationship with the Christie family from the beginning of their arrival at Frasers Ridge, however, now the stability of the whole community is affected.

This storyline offers the opportunity to showcase a record that would have been very relevant to the situation in which Malva finds herself. This record is called a bastardy bond. Choosing this term to describe these records is very questionable, however, there is legal precedent for this practice. Under English Common Law, it has been the legal term, for hundreds of years, used to describe a child born out of wedlock. As early as 1700, North Carolina’s system of law, which is based on English Common Law, was using this terminology to differentiate children born of “illegitimate” circumstances. The majority of sentiment during the 18th century, dictated that these children were potential burdens on the state because they did not have a recognized father to provide financial support for their upkeep. This mindset led to the idea of a bastardy bond as a solution.

We have discussed bonds in an earlier blog about marriage bonds. The intent of all types of bonds were the same. Bonds were issued with the intention that if the conditions of the bond were not fulfilled the person taking out the bond would be held financially responsible for the amount of penalty money specified on the bond. If the conditions of the bond were fulfilled the bond became void.

For a more specific description of the process of issuing a bastardy bond and the information included on the bond I have included a passage from Helen Leary’s research guide titled, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History. As we have mentioned in previous blogs, this publication is a wonderful source of information for genealogists researching North Carolina ancestors because the guide focuses on research strategies for records specific to North Carolina. Please find the passage below.

“When local officials discovered that an unmarried woman had been delivered of an illegitimate child or was pregnant with one, they questioned her under oath about the identity of the child’s father. The reputed father was then summoned before the county court to post a bond. He might also be ordered to support the child for a specific period of time or provide a specific sum for support. If the mother refused to name a father, she was required to post bond herself, or a relative of hers posted it. A man might declare himself innocent and submit the question of paternity to the judgment of a jury, however the General Assembly held the power to legally legitimize a child until 1835. Beginning in 1806, this authority was shared with the county inferior and superior courts.”

Here is an example of an 1840 bastardy bond from Cumberland County. It includes the information normally found on a bastardy bond, including the county, name of the mother, the date and the amount of money specified in the conditions of the bond. The name of the father provided by the mother or her representative, is also usually included. In the case of Rhoda Ivy, there are two men agreeing to post bond with her approval. There may be a deeper puzzle to be uncovered here, however, genealogists try not to make assumptions.

Cumberland County, Bastardy Bonds, 1840, CR.029.102.1

Below is an example from Rowan County that provides a look at the kind of document Malva would be ordered to file with the county court. Of course, cases could be decided on an individual basis. If the man and woman later married or local officals decided not to pursue the matter, a bond may have not been required.

The bond, dated 1806, incudes the name of the mother, Cathreen Myers and the reputed father, Joseph Gordin. It also mentions the child is a girl, however, as usually the case, the name of the child is not recorded. The condition of the bond is that Joseph Gordin is bound to the chairman of the county court, a sum of one hundred pounds for providing the maintenance of the child. If he fullfills this duty, the bond will be void.

Rowan County, Bastardy Bonds, 1806 , CR.085.1806

I think most genealogists will agree that one of the most frustrating roadblocks to locating vital records information in early North Carolina is the lack of statewide birth or death records prior to 1913. There are miscellaneous city registries of death records, such as Raleigh and Wilmington, however, a statewide vital records law was not enacted until 1913. In leu of these records, genealogists can consult bible records, census records, church and cemetery records, family files and newspapers, among others. Traditionally, the bastardy bond series of records has been overlooked in terms of their value in genealogical research pertaining to parentage. There is a growing awareness of their potential genealogical value, however, and more genealogists include them in their research strategies when searching for information about parents. On occasion, the bonds may contain the only information available when it comes to tracing the birth of a child and providing the names of parents.

In the case of the fictional Malva Christie, her fate was decided not long after her accusation. According to the laws of the time, however, her name could have been recorded on a bastardy bond like those we have focused on in this blog. If she publicly named Jamie as the father, he would have had to enter into the bond agreement, fight it in court or persuade her to withdraw her accusation. With her demise, we will never know what could have happened.

Please join us next time as we discuss records that pertain to 18th century murder charges!

Documenting the World of Outlander 3.5: Documenting 18th Century Child Support Records