“Decreet, Armstrong v Kirk - 2 September 1847”, sounds innocuous enough, you may think. Not far into this particular decree, though, we find out some very useful genealogical information. The following decree is taken from a so far unindexed volume of the Jedburgh Sheriff Court Register of Decreets (or Decrees). Much of the material in these volumes concerns the resolution of financial disputes and the like. Interesting perhaps, but not as useful to the genealogist as the paternity cases interspersed amongst the courts business.
After 1855 we generally know if there was a paternity decree as it would normally be recorded on the civil registration birth certificate. Before 1855, however there may be very little information. Sometimes we can find an entry in Kirk Session minutes, but these have not always survived, and not all families were members of the Church of Scotland or one of the other leading Presbyterian churches which kept such records. Even when such minutes survive, the entries may give only very limited information regarding the parents.
Sometimes we see an illegitimate child use a father’s surname (often this is the case in the early census returns), and we may speculate as to the identity of the father. Sheriff Court decrees like the one shown in the extract below can enable us to positively identify the father of an illegitimate child and therefore overcome a brick wall in our family tree. The decree is often only the starting point, as in many cases the processes also survive. The processes are court papers which often give us much more information than the decree and help us to see the case from the perspective of both the pursuer and the defender.
I am pleased to say work has now begun on indexing these wonderful records. Watch this space!
In the margin we read:
2d September 1847
The body of the text reads as follows:
At Jedburgh the Twenty eighth day of July and the Sixteenth day of August Eighteen hundred and forty seven years Sitting in Judgment John Craigie Esquire Sheriff Substitute of the County of Roxburgh in an action raised before the Sheriff Court of the said County at the instance of Jemima Armstrong Daughter of and residing with William Armstrong Blacksmith in Morebattle Pursuer against William Kirk Blacksmith in Morebattle defender. The Sheriff Decerned and Ordained and herby Decerns and Ordains that the said William Kirk Defender to make payment to the said Jemima Armstrong Pursuer of the sum of One pound of inlying expenses of a male bastard child of which the pursuer was delivered on the twentieth day of March eighteen hundred and forty seven of which the said William Kirk is the father. Item of the sum of one pound ten shilling per quarter for three quarters of nursing fee. Item of Four pounds per annum of aliment thereafter payable quarterly and per advance which aliment is to continue until the said child shall arrive at the age of ten years unless the said defender shall when the child shall attain the age of seven years offer to take it to his own home and provide suitably for it reserving to the said child its relations to apply and shew cause for a continuance of the aliment after it shall arrive at the age of ten years and to the Defender his Defences as accords. Item of Interest on the several sums as they have become or may become respectively due until paid. Item of the sum of Three pounds & eight pence of Expenses of process and Item of the sum of four shillings as the dues of Extracting this Decreet and of Recording the same. And I the said Sheriff &c
Written by Geo. Henderson Collated by I Stewart Newbigging
Taken from Jedburgh Sheriff Court, Register of Decrees (NRS reference SC62/7/9, pages 4 and 5).
This record now helps us to identify the William Kirk or Anderson seen here in the census of 1851 as the child of William Kirk seen here. Hopefully unravelling a little mystery for the Armstrong family!
Do you have this type of mystery? I hope the indexes that we are going to make available soon will help. In the meantime email me with your genealogical queries and we will see what we can do.