Parish Chest – Settlement, Removal and Bastardy Bonds

Under the Act of Settlement and Removal 1662 the poor could only claim poor relief from the parish in which they were legally settled. Settlement was obtained by:

  • Renting property in the parish to the value of £10 per year or more
  • Working in the parish for a year (if unmarried)
  • Being a woman marrying a man of the parish
  • Being a legitimate child of under 7 years whose father lived in the parish
  • Being an illegitimate child born in the parish (after 1743 this changed and the child took the settlement of the mother)
  • Being a child or person apprenticed to a master in the parish (after 40 days)
  • Being a person who has moved to the parish and lived there for 40 day after giving the parish authorities written notice of his intention to do so
  • Holding public office (from 1691)

The effect was to restrict the poor moving around to find work. In 1697 settlement certificates were introduced, allowing people to move between parishes to obtain work, provided they had a certificate from their ‘home’ parish confirming that parish would accept them back should they require poor relief. Settlement certificates provide valuable genealogical details:

  • Names of all family members
  • Ages of family members
  • Details of their parish of settlement
  • Names of the Churchwardens and Overseers of the parish issuing the certificate

People/families moving to a different parish to find work were required to file their certificates with the Overseer in the ‘new’ parish as ‘proof’. There are therefore often two copies of settlement certificates to be found amongst the parish records: one in the originating parish and one in the new parish.

Records with regard to settlement may also be found in Overseers accounts/records by way of:

  • Detailed notes of expenses incurred in ascertaining a person’s/family’s legal settlement;
  • correspondence with the parish officers (usually the Overseers) of other parishes;


Where a person/family’s legal settlement was in doubt, they could be examined by a Justice of the Peace on oath as to their legal settlement. Where examination records exist they may be found amongst the parish records3 and can essentially provide a short biography of the person or family’s life over a long period of time. It is therefore likely to contain valuable information for the genealogist and clues as to where other records for the person/family may be found. Information contained in them can include:

  • Place of birth
  • Age
  • Parentage
  • Employment history
  • Apprenticeships
  • Places in which they have previously lived
  • Marriage
  • Children’s names and ages

Where the Justices were satisfied the person or family had no right to settle in the parish and they required poor relief, they would issue a Removal Order, ordering the person/family to be removed to their place of legal settlement. Removal Orders may also appear amongst the parish records.

If they do not survive, there may be other records pertaining to the removal of a person/family, in particular in the Constables accounts (by way of the detailed expenses in connection with the removal) who would be required to escort those being removed to the parish boundary. Sometimes those being removed would have to pass through a number of parishes to arrive in the parish of their legal settlement, in which case there will likely be reference to that removal in the Constables accounts of each parish they had to pass through.

Again there are therefore often two copies of removal orders to be found amongst the parish records: one in the parish issuing the order and one in the parish they had been returned to.

Bastardy records and bonds

During the 17th and the 18th century illegitimate/bastardy birth rate increased and numerous Acts were passed concerning bastard children and their parents. These Acts provided for:

  • The parents of bastard children being imprisoned for up to one year
  • A woman having a second bastard child being sent to prison unless she could provide security for good behaviour, this lead to an increase in abortions and infanticide
  • Making killing a bastard murder
  • Overseers, on the order of two Justices of the Peace, being able to seize goods of parents who abandoned their bastard children7
  • A pregnant woman to declare to the overseer if the baby was a bastard and to name the father in order to stop her concealing the pregnancy and disposing of the child quietly8
  • A bastard children to take the settlement of the mother and for the mother to be punished by public whipping.

Bastardy examinations of mothers were held to establish who the father was. Once identified the father was obliged to pay for the child’s upkeep by way of a bond entered into with the parish, or by the parish obtaining a court order for maintenance payments to be made. Bastard children were also frequently apprenticed at seven years of age.

Parents were ‘encouraged’ to marry so that the child would take the fathers legal settlement, particularly if that was a different parish as they could then be removed. There were often ‘bribes’ or ‘financial incentives’ provided to persuade the parents to marry. These events were often recorded in vestry minutes.

There are a great number of documents relating to bastards which may be of value to the genealogy to differing extents. Those held in parish records include:

  • Bastard examination records
  • Bastardy Bonds
  • Maintenance Orders
  • Overseers accounts and/or Churchwardens accounts and/or Vestry Minutes may record voluntary payments made by a father
  • Settlement examinations, settlement certificates and removal orders
  • Constable accounts
  • Apprenticeship records

Along with the records of the overseers of the poor rate (see the previous blog) these records are arguable some of the records of greatest value to the family historian. These are the records which should provide the most information on individual parishioners.

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