Answers to Questions


REYNOLDS / TEMPLEMAN, Bramfield, mid-18th century

July, 2010




Within a couple of months I have had two questions about the same baptismal record suggesting a possible cousin link. In both cases I might be able to provide more help if I had been provided with more information, although the two together do provide some additional clues making a reply possible. What I have done is looked at the type of evidence that could be available rather than come up with any direct answers to the key questions.

Sandra Kemp (belhus @t of Australia wrote: My fourth great grandfather, William Reynolds, fathered a son to my fourth great grandmother Jane Templeman. The child was baptised on the 5th of May 1765 in Bramfield. The parish records show that the father was named as William Reynolds although John was given his mothers surname of Templeman. I have exhausted all avenues with regard to William Reynolds place of birth and what happened to him.

Edna Phillips (elvisphillips @t of Luton wrote: William Reynoldes/Reynolds, my wife's ancestor, born in Wheathampstead, in 1738, had a child, John, by Jane Templeman of Bramfield, in 1765.  As far as I can tell they never married.  But the christening is recorded on the Parish Records in Bramfield.  (Parish and Mormon records).  The child, John, is on record as Base Born.  [In some such cases] the father had agreed to help with the financial upbringing of the child and arrangements had been made with the local church.  Is there anyway I can find this information out?  I can find no marriage for either William Reynoldes/Reynolds or Jane Templeman who died in Hertingfordbury.

Interpreting the Baptismal Register

The first thing to be aware of is that there was no fixed format for the baptismal registers in the 18th century and exactly what was recorded depended on the minister. For instance some will record occupations and/or the address while most do not. Not only is it important to check what the register actually says about your ancestor - but it is also important to see what information the minister was in the habit of recording. In any case which is even a little bit unusual it can be important to know exactly what words were used, and whether this was how such events were normally recorded by the minister. In some cases an examination of the register can show that the baptism (or marriage or funeral) was not carried out by the normal minister, or there was some other exceptional feature, and this can also be useful evidence.

In this case we have the baptism of an illegitimate child  which was becoming more common after about 1750. (This increase may have been a result of the Hardwicke Marriage Act which did away with Common Law marriages.) This entry is somewhat unusual because the father's name is recorded, while in most cases it is not. Now in many parishes, if the unmarried father and mother turned up to the baptism as if they were a normal couple the minister would record the birth as if they were Common Law husband and wife and not make a fuss about it. Other ministers would have been very correct and insisted in recording the baptism in a way to make it clear that the couple were "living in sin". In other cases the father was absent and the minister might have added the suspect's name at the time - or perhaps at a later date.

To complicate the matter further, a few ministers might chose to include the wife's maiden name on the register in the case of a married couple - and while this appears not to apply in this case one can come across cases where it is uncertain whether the child was "John Templeman" or "John Templeman Reynolds."

The important thing to realise is that in some cases the interpretation of an entry in a register comes down an examination of the exact words recorded in the register (which neither of the questioners provided) and the normal practice of the minister in keeping his register (which most amateur family historians fail to check).

The Poor Law and Bastards

The 18th century equivalent of social security was controlled by the Poor Laws, and each parish had an Overseer of the Poor who collected rates from the inhabitants of the parish and paid parish relief to the needy. Bastards could be a problem as they could represent a drain on parish funds. The system could be very cruel and it was not unknown for a poor unmarried vagrant mother to be hurried from parish to parish as the time the birth was approached so that the child would be born in (and hence the responsibility of) someone else's parish.

However the Overseer of the Poor would only take an interest in an illegitimate birth in the parish if there was reason to believe that there would be a call for poor relief. If the father and mother were living together as Common Law husband and wife, and were not themselves on poor relief, there would be no need to get involved. If the mother and child were being supported by her parents again there would be no need for action. If the mother was one of a number of house servants at the big house, her employer might make it clear that he would continue to employ her, and might even offer to become the god father of the child at the baptism. In such cases there would be no reason for there to be any surviving records of who took responsibility for the child's welfare. If the father was known there may have been pressure for the couple to marry before the birth - or even shortly afterwards. In my own family the only contemporary record for the birth of my ancestor William Speed Locke is a payment to the Overseers for "Widow Lock's lying in month" by a William Speed - who we assume was the father.

Exactly how particular cases were handled depended to quite a large extent on the practice with the individual parish, but where a father was known and there might be a risk of a demand for parish relief the father might agree to a bastardy bond - or if he disputed the matter taken to court (but only if he had enough money to be worth the effort).

Even if the Overseers made records at the time, for very many parishes they have not survived. Such records (including the rate collection books and relief payments) could be very bulky and there was no legal requirement to keep them long term. In most cases where they remained in the parish (perhaps piled up in a loft in the church because there was no room in the lockable parish chest) they are now in the local records office (HALS in the case of Bramfield). A search of the Access to Archives web site shows that the Bramfield Parish records at HALS are filed under the reference DP22 with the Overseers records under DP22/12. These include a manuscript volume "Overeers' accounts and Vestry minutes for 1750-1778" Reference DP22/12/1. If this includes the detailed accounts they may include a reference to any payments relating to the birth of John Templeman, There may also be references to his mother if she received poor relief. However it is possible that all the book contains are the overseer's summary accounts at the end of the year which are unlikely to contain such detail. The only way to find out (if the records have not been filmed by the Mormons) is to visit HALS or arrange for someone to look at the records on your behalf.

Other Records

When there is a problem like this, particularly where records are missing or never existed) every scrap of information about the people involved, their social background, occupations, etc., may sometimes give a clue as to where to look. In such cases there can often be problems of identity and while I have reason to suspect that my great great great grandfather was called William speed I have no idea whether he was William Speed senior  or his son William Speed junior. (The advice file Right Name, Wrong Body? is a useful read at this point). There were a large number of men called William Reynolds in Hertfordshire at the time according to the Militia lists (none recorded at Bramfield or Wheathampstead) and I don't have the evidence of why Phillips suggest William may have been from Wheathampstead.

On another track is that it may be that the Templeman family in Bramfield had some social standing - which could have ensured that Jane's son would not have been a drain on the Overseer's poor relief funds, I note that in 1711/12 a Thomas Templeman, yeoman of Bramfield. left a will (suggesting some status) and John Templeman, bricklayer, of nearby Hertford, left a will in 1737. I have not checked the National Archives to see if there are any later Bramfield wills held there. However it would seem that John Templeman, son of Jane had lower status as he first appears in the 1785 militia list for Bramfield as a servant to Mr Wicks. (Other militia list Templeman entries for Bramfield suggest the family may have been bricklayers - which might be interpreted as builders.)

In such cases the more information you can collect about the individuals you can collect (and let me have when asking your question) the easier it is for me to suggest possible ways forward - or in some cases commiserate because you have come to a real block on further research.

April, 2011

Edna wrote again saying  Thank you very much for your answer regarding an enquiry about Jane Templeman and William Reynolds son John, who is recorded as Base Born in 1765. We have recently located another child born to a Jane Templeman, Bramfield, in 1757. (No father named this time) The other enquirer is my sister Sandra Kemp who lives in Australia.  It wasn't until a few weeks later that in mentioning I had written to you, she laughed and said she'd done the same thing. 

 Additonal information.  We know the Templeman's were poor folk, so there would be no connection with any Templeman who left a Will.  As far as we can tell we have traced the family back to the civil war, still living in the Hertingfordbury, Letty Green, Staines Green area, and only one child of Hannah (Waller), and James Templeman, marriage 1817, of which there were 11, left Hertingfordbury to live in London.  This was Samuel Templeman and we (through our mother) are direct descendants of Samuel and his wife Elizabeth, who married in London in 1864. But we still are unable to find out who William Reynolds was, although I located a William Reynolds in a nearby area of Wheathampstead born in 1738, which puts makes him an adult when Jane had John.  There was also a William Reynolds recorded as asking for a Re Settlement in Hertingfordbury around the right time.  I am now trying to find out who of the Templeman family is buried in St Mary's Church.  I have been told at the records office that because Hannah Templeman who died in the Hertingfordbury Workhouse in 1875 and James Templeman, her husband, who died in Letty Green, in 1870, should both be buried in Hertingfordbury Church, even though there would be no marker as they were poor.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

July 2010   Page created