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Was having several children without being married common (1840s)

(32 Posts)
StripySocksAndDocs Tue 02-Oct-18 09:33:12

Trying to figure out if I've the right family on the census.

I have a marriage cert- 1845 - but there's three children (one - my ancestor- has the right name I don't know about siblings so trying to figure out if this is them). The location is right and the surname is an unusual one. The first names of the parents match the wedding cert.

I had the idea in my head that couples, where the man stuck around, would get married way back them. Reputation and all that kind of public opinion.

CaptainKirkssparetupee Tue 02-Oct-18 09:37:43

Are you / they mixed race?
If so some churches refused to marry.

Childrenofthesun Tue 02-Oct-18 09:44:16

In that scenario, I would imagine one of the parents was already married but separated.

It did happen though. I have some late Victorian ancestors who were married but the wife died. Wife's sister moved in to the family home to help out with the children. Several more children were born, although the wife's sister never married her former brother-in-law. I suspect it was more widely accepted in working class than middle class circles.

53rdWay Tue 02-Oct-18 09:46:00

Did happen but not hugely common. Are they all listed as his surname on the 1841 census?

Babdoc Tue 02-Oct-18 09:46:20

It would have depended a bit on social class, OP. The middle class were ultra respectable and worried about keeping up appearances, so the majority would have had a shotgun wedding if pregnant. Same for the upwardly aspiring working class. The destitute poor at the very bottom of the scale, less so.
I think the national census started around 1831, so by 1845 people knew their domestic circumstances were all being recorded and documented - that might have made them more likely to get legally married, perhaps?
But these are just general population observations- you can’t guess what your individual ancestors may have done or thought.

PiperPublickOccurrences Tue 02-Oct-18 09:48:50

It's not as uncommon as you'd think. I had a relative in the 1860s who had two children as an unmarried mother. There is no indication of any man on any census records and father is not named on the children's birth certificates or their marriage certificates. Both the children have the same surname, but not the mother's name. (Assuming the father's name).

My take on it is that the father was around in the village where they were all living and was either unable to marry my relative (because he was married to someone else) or simply didn't want to. Women had no power back then and just had to get on with raising their children with everyone else gossiping about them.

I have also seen instances of a child being "passed off" in a census return - for example parents of 48 and 50, children ranging in ages from 30 down to 12. Then a 1 year old baby listed as "daughter". Not impossible, but far more likely to be the child of one of the older children.

Babdoc Tue 02-Oct-18 09:49:17

Also, death in childbirth was quite common, men usually remarried quickly to get a housekeeper/childminder for the existing kids, so there were plenty of step families of mixed siblings. Ditto when husbands died - women had limited earning potential and were under pressure to remarry.

LanaorAna2 Tue 02-Oct-18 09:51:04

Yes, miles more common than you think, what with no divorce, the expense of weddings and lots of couples with mixed religions/social classes never making it up the aisle. Working classes esp as no property or assets to transfer.

Respectability increased hugely in the late Victorian era, for the middle classes at least.

ScrambledSmegs Tue 02-Oct-18 10:10:42

Maybe one of the parents was previously married? Possibly widowed.

StripySocksAndDocs Tue 02-Oct-18 11:58:05

Are you / they mixed race?
No, don't think they were. The family from the surname line are all based same area.of England never strayed from save (boring lot!!!). Her name doesn't suggest so. Though the marriage record is in an Anglican church.

Did happen but not hugely common. Are they all listed as his surname on the 1841 census
Yes they do. Listed as daughters and son. I suppose they could be his and not hers (it was info relating to the head of the household wasn't it? Always the man if present). She's there too as 'wife'.

SurelyYoureJokingMrFeynman Tue 02-Oct-18 12:11:05

What they said.

Not hugely uncommon that a couple weren't able to marry because of a previous marriage, broken down or current (long-term affairs aren't a new thing).

And not at all uncommon for censuses to record a composite family. Sometimes the unexpected children are step-children of one parent; other times they've been completely wrongly recorded and are more distant family members or lodgers or pupils.

Quite common for surnames to be recorded wrongly on the census in that circumstance, too. Census-taker gets surname of head of household and just works their way down adding first names, not confirming the surname of each.

StripySocksAndDocs Tue 02-Oct-18 16:05:54

Having more closely checked out the ages she's around 16 having the first. He's 9 years older on all census bar the 1841 (on which ages were rounded off anyway). They don't marry for 10 more years after the first is born (and two children more born and survived).

It's crazy how interesting it all is! Trying to figure out the story of what happened.

sarcasticllama Tue 02-Oct-18 19:14:02

It might be worth searching for all instances of that surname in that place for about a 50 year period surrounding the time you are looking - births, marriages and deaths.

Does the marriage certificate say that they were bachelor and spinster when they married? You probably need to order the birth certificates of all the siblings. Have you checked the parish register for that church?

Could they be nieces and nephews who were taken in, perhaps they were orphaned. A lot of people resented meddling officials coming to the door and demanding information, so quite a few lies were told which perpetuate on the censuses.

cdtaylornats Sat 06-Oct-18 23:45:13

Check several census records and see what her job was recorded as.

Seamstress was a euphemism for prostitute

MarklahMarklah Sat 06-Oct-18 23:58:18

Interesting.
I've recently been doing some family history research which suggests my Grandfathers' grandparents weren't married.
Initially I had thought his grandfather married twice. I found banns and then traced the certificate for his 'second' marriage, in which he is given as a widower. By this time my Grandfathers' father was a young child.
However, tracing back and comparing marriage records to the census I find nothing to suggest he and his first 'wife' were actually legally married.
It doesn't really matter to me, but it may explain why he (Grandfather's father) was an only child. Or at least, the only child I can find that appears to be of that union.

AornisHades Sun 07-Oct-18 10:40:37

The relationships aren't routinely listed on the 1841 census. You might get 'Farmer's Son' listed as occupation but be wary of assuming relationships solely on the basis of that census. You can get all sorts of relatives and other people mixed in particularly if the surname is common to the area.
I routinely check for other marriages when there's a gap in children but all the others are close together like a 10 year old with 4,2 & 1 year old siblings. People were cavalier with surnames too, listing step children as children and the surname of the step parent on some records but using their original name on others.

StripySocksAndDocs Sun 07-Oct-18 13:40:26

I've since discovered he was a widower when they married (plus there was another child born before marriage, who didn't survive.)

I've also discovered a marriage (there is only two marriages on record in his name) it fits his age and from when he was 16 - also 20 years before he married again. I found that during this marriage there were several children born (one after the first was born with the to be second wife). Can't be certain this is him though. Can't find any trace of wife no 1 death though. Which is annoying!!

She's no occupation written.

MarklahMarklah Sun 07-Oct-18 14:02:43

Stripy have you looked for wife 1's death in her unmarried name? I was about to do that with my relative but right now I don't have an active subscription to anything to check it out in enough detail.

StripySocksAndDocs Sun 07-Oct-18 14:20:02

Yes. Both names with a wide variety of dates. Not one death for either name.

Also don't have an active subscription either, so it is more restrictive. It may not be him in the marriage, but as I said only two marriages to his name. The marriage cert does say widower (once you decipher the handwriting!!!)

MarklahMarklah Mon 08-Oct-18 22:59:46

I wonder if they both went their separate ways in that case? It sounds about as complicated as one of my family lines to be honest!
I know you can look on freebmd.
The GRO website where you order birth, marriage and death certificates does have some advanced search functionality which I discovered when looking for a birth, but I don't know if it does the same for looking for a death.
The LDS website allows some free searches, which you may well be aware of, so if you've not tried looking there, might that help?

It doesn't help that the 1841 census isn't exactly loaded with detailed information. Do you know roughly when the first wife might have died?

sarcasticllama Sun 14-Oct-18 10:05:52

Have you tried looking for the marriages of the older children? On their marriage certificate it will give the name of the father. If you know the maiden surname of his first wife then search under that as well.

On later censuses, where is his place of birth? Is it in the same locality or elsewhere in the country? If people moved a long way away from where they originated, it would have been easy for them to arrive in a new village or town where nobody knew them, and say they were a widower. No-one would check.

You really need to find his birth record and enlarge the tree to include his parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and nieces & nephews (and all their spouses). Relatives were often given the same first name. You might also find that the second wife was related to the first, so you need to go back on the wives' trees as well.

Not much to do then grin

Womaningreen Sun 14-Oct-18 10:09:28

i thought it was very common among poor folk, who were the majority. they had no need of sorting out legals for property or anything and I think there was a charge for the certificate? so they didn't bother.

I also thought it was one of the reasons the "common law" myth developed.

BlueSkyBurningBright Sun 21-Oct-18 15:34:08

I have found this on both sides of my family tree.

My great grandmother had my great uncle before she married my great grandfather in Scotland in the late 1890's.

My husband also found his great grandparents had three children before they married and then went onto have another 10. This was also in the late 1800's. Birth certificates, marriage and census reports show this.

RandomlyChosenName Sun 21-Oct-18 19:33:03

I’ve got one on my family tree around 1900 where the mother had 11 children. All are given her surname. No father mentioned. No man listed on any of the census’ and she is listed as single.

What’s that about??

ivykaty44 Sun 18-Nov-18 07:39:32

The relationship on the census is to the head of the household therefore the wife may in fact be the step mother to some of the children

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