Illegitimate Children were a fact of life, literally.
Illegitimate children were common. It’s not unusual to see an illegitimate child on each page of the parish register.
Vincenc, illegitimate child of Josepha Petras
Josepha Petras had an illegitimate child in 1859, when she was 21. Here’s the parish register that records Vincenc, illegitimate son of Josepha Petras.
- There are three illegitimate children on this page.
- For Josepha’s child, the father isn’t named. But was the father known? Of course.
- In the other two cases, the father is named, and his signature acknowledges the fact. Often, this caused the father to marry the mother, which legitimized the child.
Emperor Joseph II ruled about 1780 that father of an illegitimate child would be mentioned only if he acknowledges in front of two witnesses that he is the father. The whole village might have known who the father was, but the priest was not allowed to put his name into the record if the father didn’t want to.
Illegitimate children often died in infancy
Illegitimate children died in infancy at a higher rate than legitimate children. Reasons could be:
- The child wasn’t welcome
- The mother wasn’t supported by family or community
- The mother couldn’t provide for the child
- The mother intentionally withheld care
- and more…
Here’s the death register for Vincenc, who died a few weeks after birth. He died on February 18 at five o’clock in the morning, and was buried at Pustá Rybná on the 20th. Cause of death was “psotnik”, which was used for almost any case of infant death. The register records “Vincenc illegitimate son of Josepha Petras…”
Frantisek, illegitimate child of Josepha Petras
It was often the case that if a woman had an illegitimate child, she would have more.
Sure enough. Josepha had another child, Frantisek, when she was 25.
Once again, the father isn’t named.
And once again, the child died. Frantisek died August 16 at 4 am, three months old. He was buried at Pustá Rybná on the 18th. Cause of death was “psotnik”. The register records “Antonin Frantisek illegitimate son of Josepha Petras…”
Illegitimate children were looked down on
Often, the stigma of being an illegitimate child stuck with a person into adulthood.
Here’s a case where a Joseph Teply, age 22, is getting married to Anna Teply. The register records “Josef Teply illegitimate son of Frantiska Teply…” He’s 22.
Illegitimate children can’t inherit property
Under the civil code of Austria, which was the law in Bohemia during the Habsburg rule, illegitimate children could not inherit.
Mothers of illegitimate children were damaged goods
Mothers were ostracized by the church, the community, sometimes by their own family. So much so that often a mother of an illegitimate child had a difficult time finding a marriage partner.
So, that begs the question…
What do you think?
- Birth – Frantisek Petras – 1863 – Zamrsk Archives, Czech Republic – s. 18-6 – p. 83 – i. 84
- Birth – Vincenc Petras – 1859 – Zamrsk Archives, Czech Republic – s. 18-5 – p. 106 – i. 104
- Death – Frantisek Petras – 1863 – Zamrsk Archives, Czech Republic – s. 18-14 – p. 21 – i. 24
- Death – Vincenc Petras – 1859 – Zamrsk Archives, Czech Republic – s. 18-13 – p. 170 – i. 87
- Peasant woman nursing a baby – Dalou, Aimé-Jules – V&A Museum, London
- Girl in Oxford Prison – unknown
- Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of her niece, Julia Jackson – 1867