Answers to Questions


PUTNAM & WARD, St Albans, early 19th century

January, 2009



St Albans

Robert Dempster (rob.liz.dempster @t of New Zealand writes: I know that my g.g.grandfather Charles Ward (christened 5th April 1837) and his brother Alfred (christened 1839) were both born out of wedlock to Mary Ward (b.1812, St Albans). Both Charles and Alfred were baptised at St Albans Abbey church but no father is named (parish records sited). The boys took their mother's surname. Alfred Ward died aged 7 but Charles married Elizabeth Swaine in 1857 (certificate held). "Henry Putnam" is given as Charles' father on his marriage cert but I have no other records to verify that he is the father. The 1841-71 censuses of the Ward family show no father at home.

My question is where would I find the "bastardy documents" in the church records. There are several documents available via the LDS and these are listed in the film notes of the IGI. They are variously described as "Churchwardens accounts", "Miscellaneous papers", "Overseers accounts" and "Poor rates". If the father was known and the church wished to extract money from him where would the records be held and what would they be called?

The first thing to ask is whether we can identify a possible "Henry Putnam" and find out more about him, as this could give a clue as to where any records might be. The Borough (as it then was) of St Albans contains 4 parishes - and of course Henry might not have been a resident of St Albans at all.

You may have already discovered from familysearch that Joseph and Susannah Putnam had three sons baptised in Abbey parish, St Albans, William in 1814, Henry in 1816 and Frederick in 1820. A quick check of the 1851 census shows that both Henry and Frederick were in London - with no sign of William, Joseph or Susannah.

The National Burial Index provides important addition information. It would seem that Joseph was buried in Abbey Parish in 1821, while Susannah and William were buried in St Peters Parish in 1832 and 1835 respectively.

So it appears that Henry's father died when he was about 5, leaving his mother to bring up three young children, and they may therefore have been very poor. She died when he was 16 (which is after he would have started working) and his older William brother died when he was 19, a year before Charles Ward was conceived. At some date - possibly after William's death and definitely before 1851 Henry and his brother Frederick left St Albans for London.

When there is any reason for doubt, the father's name given on marriage certificates can be unreliable (to cover up the sins of the past) but I get the feeling that Charles correctly believed Henry Putnam was his father  - and that Henry was a poor teenager with no family support who did not stay in St Albans - and may even have left for London to escape the consequences of the pregnancy. If the authorities were ever given Henry Putnam's name there may have been little point is trying to get any money out of him - especially if Charles and his mother Mary lived with, and were in part supported by, her parents.

So could the LDS microfilms you mention help? The following is a brief summary of the type of information such films contain and how they might help you:

Poor Rates: Rate books contain lists of householders who paid rates to the overseers of the poor, at various dates (a rate collection tended to be when needed rather than at a fixed time each year). It would only record payments by Joseph, and later his widow Susannah, if they were well enough off to pay rates. The lists may include information about addresses and the amount paid will give some idea of the value of the property they occupied. If Joseph and/or Susannah paid poor rates it is possible that William and then Henry paid rates after Susannah's death. If such payments occur it would weaken my assumption that Henry came from a poor household.

Overseers' Accounts: These should include payments to the poor (the equivalent of our Social Services) and if Susannah was left destitute when Joseph died she may well have received poor relief. If you are very lucky you might even find entries such as "1 shilling for shoes for Susannah Putnam's children". If the records cover 1837 they might cover Charles Ward's birth. (The only documentary evidence naming the father of one of my ancestors comes from a one line entry in a similar massive unindexed account book.)

Churchwardens Accounts: These will relate to the running of the parish church and are unlikely to contain any vital information in this case.

Miscellaneous Documents: There are many different kinds of documents which could be on this film - and there could well be some relating to bastardy - but no guarantee.  If your local LDS Family History Centre holds a copy of W. E. Tate's book The Parish Chest you will find a detailed account of all the goodies that could be found in the massive oak chests that used to hold the parish records before they were moved to records offices for safekeeping.

You may be able to find out more about what could be on the films by looking at the index entries for parish records held at HALS (which holds the originals). Look at A2A for "St Albans Abbey Parish" and "DP90" for details of material from the parish chest - which should at least give you the dates various document cover. As there are 4 historic parishes in St Albans it might be worth checking what similar material is available for those parishes - as some of the burials mentioned above took place at St Peters (ref DP93).

Page created January 2009