To be or not to be…illegitimate?

Just a few nights ago, I watched Blossoms in the Dust, a 1941 documentary of Mrs. Edna Gladney and her fight for civil rights of orphaned children in Texas. Not only was this movie enlightening, it sparked my interest in the birth records of these orphans and their effect throughout adulthood.

Over the course of family researching, have you come across notations or ink stamps highlighting legitimacy on a birth certificate or register entry? Let’s take a moment and look into that particular question imposed.

(click image to see full view)
This birth register entry is of the unnamed child of Rita Harris (Missouri, 1884), considered illegitimate.

Notice the notation of illegitimacy is written under the column regarding the father.

This birth notice of the unnamed child of Merodith (Texas, 1905) strikes out legitimate indicating the child is out of wedlock. Notice the mother’s surname is omitted.

Other standardized forms may contain an ink stamped “ILLEGITIMATE” on it’s face.

Studying various laws for the time period can bring further focus on the purpose of knowing legitimacy and particularly regarding children’s rights to inheritance. If a child was born within the confines of marriage, then he was the legitimate child of the couple and entitled to full rights of inheritance of both father and mother. If the child was born outside of wedlock, many states retricted claims of inheritance from those proven to have been from an illegitimate union. Some states allowed these children to inherit from their mother and maternal next of kin but overwhelmingly, the father’s inheritance was not awarded.

The branding status of legitamacy on birth certificates spawned movements for amending birth certificates to prevent children marked for life. Amended and sealed birth certificates of today reflect this movement in courthouses across the country. And in some instances, children noted at birth as illegitimate could become legitimate upon the marriage of the parents; the original birth replaced.

Now, I can go on and on discussing this issue but perhaps offering a couple google book references below can move you to reinvestigate your family birth registrations in a new light. ;)

Principles of the law of real property by Joshua Williams (1845)
Illegitimacy laws of the United States by Ernst Freund (1919)

Just leaf’n through life,

This entry was posted in Understanding Documents and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To be or not to be…illegitimate?

  1. Tina Sansone says:

    Interesting topic. I have not seen this on my research, but have heard of it showing up for others. I guess this child should be happy they put where the residence was.


  2. Tina Sansone says:

    Interesting article. Something you do not think about, until you run across it. Thanks for the links. Great start to a wonderful blog.


  3. L K says:

    This is the first time I’ve seen such birth certificates. I’ll be paying closer attention from now on. Looking forward to your future entries!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>