Child Born Before the Marriage?

If a child is “born” before a couple married, consider several possibilities:

  • the date of marriage is incorrect
  • the date of birth for the child is incorrect
  • the wife/husband had a child out of wedlock
  • the “child” was adopted
  • etc.

Your first conclusion about the scenario may be correct. Or it may not be. Research the family as completely as possible, then see if a conclusion can be reached.


6 thoughts on “Child Born Before the Marriage?

  1. April Payne

    It’s worth it to take a closer look. I have a fourth great-grandfather who bears the name of his paternal grandfather, which makes several members of the exact same name in that family. Records show mine was born in the year 1796. According to the S.A.R. membership application, (which shows lineage) his mother was named Mary Arnott. Most of us know it to be Arnett, but that’s beside the point.) Mary and my fifth great-grandfather were married by some records in 1798, so you see the dilemma. My fifth great-grandfather had a prior marriage, would could make it appear that the first wife, Sarah, is my fifth great-grandmother. S.A.R. states otherwise. Most of the extended family I’ve come across state emphatically that Mary is our ancestor. Me? I trust, but am working to verify.

  2. Barb Bergfelder

    My family told me two other possibilities. (1) The dates we had were baptismal dates and the children were baptized whenever the circuit rider preacher happened to come by. (2) In small farming communities in Germany in the early 1800s men didn’t have a formal wedding until after the woman had produced a male heir and the child lived. If the woman wasn’t able to do that in a reasonable amount of time, he left her and tried somewhere else.

  3. Alison McIntyre

    I have looked at an interesting family that suggests some other possibilities. Alison Naismith married John McIntyre. They had four children. John died in 1858. Alison married again in December of 1859 and had a baby girl in March of 1861. The husband registered the baby with his mother’s name although there already was a child in the family with that name. The wife may not have known that he did, because she went in and registered the child with a different name about a week later. He then disappeared. In 1865 and 1870 she had two children with another man. They were married in 1884 after she had managed to get a divorce, and his first wife died. This was in Scotland where the census takers seemed to have trouble with too many last names in one family. This was all straightened out with the help of many helpful people on the Midlothian list, including the grandson of the last child.

  4. Carole Hammond

    In the 1700s it was the duty of the midwife to get the name of the father while the girl was in labor so the town wouldn’t have to support the child until he was 7 years old and able to earn money as an apprentice. 21 yr old Susanna Barber gave the name of the father as Edward Lillibridge, an older married man, who had to support him for 7 years. Susanna named her baby Lillibridge Barber. Touché!

    Cora, a loving Quaker girl, wasn’t able to marry her lover because he was already married…to her sister. Luckily she met a nice man a year after the baby was born and he gave the baby his name and was a loving father. They came to Oregon by the 1st narrow gauge train in 1883 but the shame followed them, taunting their little girl.

  5. Karen Trout

    How is an illegitimate child, born of a union between a family member and a non-family member, handled in documenting the Family Tree?

    1. michaeljohnneill Post author

      Tie them to the correct biological parents, if known, and create separate adopted parent/child relationship for those indivduals. I’ve got a relative that I think may have been adopted twice–so I’ve got two sets of adopted parents to tie him to.


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