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Illegitimacy and its Effects on Marriage Prospects in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Rural England

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All births, marriages and deaths that occurred in two rural parishes in south-west England in the period 1754–1914 were examined, using a wide array of source material. Records of individuals were linked together into large multi-generational family groups. There were 4,940 births, of which 319 were illegitimate. For the illegitimate cases, the rates of subsequent marriage of mothers and fathers were determined and compared with those for other people in the same parishes. Being the father of an illegitimate child did not impact the chances of subsequent marriage. Being the mother of an illegitimate child decreased the chances of subsequent marriage but only if the mother was co-resident with her children. Where the mother did not live with the illegitimate child(ren), her chances of marriage were similar to that of other women. Mothers of illegitimate children were more likely to marry their cousins and were less geographically mobile than other mothers.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2021

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  • Local Population Studies was first published in 1968, and since then it has focused on presenting cutting-edge research in local, population and social history. It is published twice a year online and in print by the Local Population Studies Society, with the support of the University of Oxford. For information about how to become a member of the LPSS, and for freely available back issues from 1968 to 2010, please visit
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