Genealogy, Scotland

The Paternity Suit

Illegitimate. This word describes my grandmother. Elspeth Mill Bowie Orrock was born on January 3, 1875. My great-grandmother, Ann Linn Orrock was unmarried and she registered the birth of her daughter and signed the register with her mark.

When my father passed away, I found an extract of the Register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, Scotland among his documents. 1 This was the 1990s and I was astounded that my father never mentioned that his grandmother was unmarried at the time of his mother’s birth and that she remained unmarried.

I remember discussing it at the supper table and my two school-age children shrugged their shoulders and said, “Who cares if they weren’t married.” Exactly. Who cares? One hundred and fifty years later, no one in the family cares whether Elspeth’s parents were married or not. But in 1875, it would have been a serious offense.

The Presbyterian Church of Scotland (Kirk) formed parish councils that held Kirk Sessions, addressing matters of everyday life, such as “church non-attendance, sexual matters, bastardy and illegitimacy.”2 The Church elders dealt with the moral behaviour of their parishioners and “adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, slanderers and Sabbath breakers were all brought before the Kirk Session to answer for their behaviour and to do penance for their crimes. In the case of an illegitimate birth, the father’s name might be recorded along with the penance committed by both parents.”3

In the case of my grandmother, her mother registered the birth and gave her the father’s name as a middle name. Even though the name is recorded as Bowie, I assume that it is a mistake given that her mother could not read or write and did not know that the registrar had written Bowie instead of Boggie.4

The register of birth was corrected six years later when my great-grandmother decided to sue the father of her child in a paternity suit. On February 17, 1881, the Sheriff Court of Forfarshire found that Elspeth Orrock was the “illegitimate child of the said Ann Orrock and Henry Boggie.”5

The year of the court case, 1881, was also a census year. Ann was still living at the same address that she lived at when she gave birth to Elspeth six years earlier. She was also still living with her mother and her three siblings. Also present were both of Ann’s daughters, Elspeth and her sister, Jemima, eight months old.6  Jemima’s birth registration states that she was also illegitimate.7

The paternity suit that Ann instituted against Henry Boggie would have been a civil court action heard by the Sheriff Court under “Actions of Affiliation and Aliment.”8 I will probably never know why Ann took Henry to court but it is safe to assume that she was looking for an alimentary pension for her child. Was Henry a deadbeat father for six years? Maybe. Then again, maybe he stopped paying once Jemima was born. Or Ann simply needed more money, now that she had two children to care for by herself. It is impossible to know.

About fifteen years ago, I wrote to the Sheriff Court and asked them if they had a transcript of the court proceedings. Unfortunately, they had destroyed all transcripts after 1860 if there were nothing remarkable in the proceedings.

 

  1. Extract from the register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, dated July 29, 1947, in the writer’s possession.
  2. GenGuide web site, “Kirk/Church Sessions Scotland,” https://www.genguide.co.uk/source/kirkchurch-sessions-scotland/116/, accessed March 25, 2018.
  3. Scotland’s People web site, “Register of Corrected Entries,” https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/guides/registering-illegitimate-births, accessed March 25, 2018.
  4. This is a deduction because on other official documentation, my grandmother’s name is Elspeth Mill Boggie Orrock and Boggie was her father’s name.
  5. Extract from the register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, dated July 29, 1947, in the writer’s possession.
  6. National Records of Scotland, “1881 Census,” Scotland’s People web site, Civil Parish of St. Vigeans, District of Arbroath, entry for Elspeth Orrock, accessed January 12, 2018.
  7. National Records of Scotland, “Statutory Registers Births,” Scotland’s People web site, entry for Jemima Kinnear Orrock, born July 25, 1880, District of Arbroath, County of Forfar, accessed January 12, 2018.
  8. Scottish Indexes web site, “Finding Paternity Cases in Sheriff Court Records,” http://www.scottishindexes.co.uk/learningcourt.aspx, accessed March 25, 2018.