What is a proper term for identifying an illegitimate child when writing a biography ?

+7 votes
in Genealogy Help by Daniel Brown G2G3 (3.3k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
Are you looking for an adjective more polite or more descriptive than illegitimate?  I can't think of one off the top, but if it's a sensitive topic, you can probably write a Bio that doesn't need an adjective at all, if there are dates and data shown about the child and the parents and the parents' marital status.  Take a look at the Related Questions below and see if you find an approach you like.

From the Free Dictionary:

illegitimate child - the illegitimate offspring of unmarried parents

Those sound awful. I would just say that he was a child of unmarried parents. A few in my tree were born to their parents years before their marriage. 
I discovered the situation in my family line during the mid-1800's so its not necessarily sensitive anymore.  I suspect my great grandfather tried to hid it by saying he didn't remember who his parents were.  When I reported the situation it raised comments of disbelief by several cousins. I raised the question because although accurate, the term "illegitimate" seems lengthy, and the term "bastard" seems harsh.  Want to avoid any term that's only currently politically correct.
I agree with Lucy. Just say, "John's parents were not married at the time of his birth." And I agree with Dennis--you could just leave it out.
The parents had five children together, including my GGF, before the father died.  The mother of the children used the man's sir name in town birth records and an 1855 MA census.  The fact that the parents were unmarried is clearly supported by a registered Probate Release Document signed by the man's legal wife who lived in another location.  At the father's death, the mother and "her" children inherited nothing, landing in the Poor House, while the legal wife received a pay-off from the father's estate.

I would say more or less what you just said:

John and Mary had five children together.  Although Mary used John's surname in town birth records and an 1855 MA census,  the fact that they were not married is clearly shown by a registered Probate Release Document signed by John's legal wife who lived in another location.  When John died, Mary and "her" children inherited nothing, landing in the poorhouse, while the legal wife received a pay-off from John's estate.

8 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer
Very recently, there was a discussion on concerns about offensive shorthand for Find a Grave.  In the same spirit of consciousness raising, I decided to look up the word "illegitimate" on G2G and came across this discussion.  I don't have a specific recommendation for terminology to use in these situations, but I'm glad this topic came up.  I myself am a "child of unmarried parents" and find the term "illegitimate" offensive.  It sounds too much like "illegal".   Supporters of immigrants carry signs saying "no human being is illegal".  Likewise, "no human being is illegitimate."
by Colleen Vachuska G2G3 (3.1k points)
selected by Daniel Brown
+2 votes
“love child”
by Tommy Buch G2G6 Mach 4 (40.9k points)
Tom:  I say ALL children born to a loving union between man and woman are "love children".
+8 votes
Great question!  I'll take a stab at it:

What do you refer to someone who is without a job?  Unemployed?

But what if they have enough $ that they don't need to work, independently wealthy?  Rentier?

We are defining the person based on their employment status.

To label a child illegitimate or not is squeezing them into a category based on traditional marriage, religion, state, and marriage contracts.  Still quite normal for many families, and quite foreign for many others.

Legitimacy dates back to the days when marriages were contracts and involved the changing of money, land, titles, and the blessings of the church or state.  Children born inside this union were legitimate to the ends of the contract or in the eyes of the law.  Children sired outside this union were illegitimate so far as collecting inheritance, titles, and having a legal standing in the family unit.

Today, even children born outside of a marriage have rights so in a sense, all children born today are legitimate, they are merely outside of a traditional marriage.  

I don't suppose you have to call them anything different than you would call any other kid.  They are son or daughter of so and so.  Now, if you're trying to differentiate a child born by one member of a marriage that is outside the family, say for example a husband has a child with his secretary, then I think it sufficient to mention that this child was born outside of this marriage and was the product of the reltionship between said man (husband0 and woman (secretary).
by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (971k points)
edited by SJ Baty
As a for exmple, Mary and John have three children.  Later, John has a relationship with Mabel and little Tyler is born.  For John's bio, I might write:

== Children ==
In his marriage to Mary, John had three children:

1. Anthony
2. Spencer
3. Alice

Later, John had a child with Mabel:

1. Tyler

If it is important to the bio to differentiate that Tyler was born while John and Mary were still married you could just write that into the bio.

While John was still married to Mary, he had a child with Mabel:

1. Tyler

If someone was playing about, leave the sins on the heads of the parents, not on the innocent children.
Legitimacy and adoptions become important issues when doing research using DNA.  Biological tracing becomes very confusing when say in the 1800's someone took-in a child from another family member or a friend due to a death etc and there's no record of guardianship recorded.  Such was not unusual in those days.
+5 votes

Hello Daniel.

In WikiTree, it is not a requirement that the parents of a child are married.


José Martín de Liébano is the son of Juan Martín Barragán and Tomasina de Liébana.

Tomasina de Liébana is not the wife of Juan Martín Barragán.

Juan Martín Barragán is not the husband of Tomasina de Liébana.

José Martín de Liébano, and his brothers Juan and Agustín Martín de Liébano, are illegitime children born after the death of Tomasina's first husband.

The fact that the listed parents are not married makes clear that they were illegitime children.

In the case of writing it in the biography, I'd go for "born out of wedlock".

by Rubén Hernández G2G6 Pilot (635k points)
+4 votes
According to various dictionaries the correct terminology for a child born out of wedlock is "bastard" - a word which has been corrupted in the English language to other meanings.

The reference to illegitimate has more to do with the church than anything else, legitimate children were born to those whose parents were married to each other, all else was thus illegitimate....
by Jan Grabowski G2G Crew (320 points)
edited by Jan Grabowski
+6 votes
I use: born out of wedlock.  An older term for older times.
by LJ Russell G2G6 Pilot (165k points)
+5 votes

I used "born out of wedlock" for Clarence Walker, whose parents were unmarried at the time of birth. He was given to a relative to raise. I used "born from an extramarital relationship" for John Luther Pitts. John's father was married to woman other than John's mother. John's mother told him that his father had died. (And possibly told him that his father was from Ireland!)

by Dave Ebaugh G2G6 Mach 1 (11.3k points)
+1 vote
I don't like to raise the elephant in the room here, but...

Not all illegitimate children come from a love union. Children are also born from other couplings whether they are willing entered into or not. Lets not examine the range of ways a woman may become pregnant here. However, this is a personal matter for me and something I have personally struggled with for most of my life. Not because I am an illegitimate child but because I watched a very close member of my family who was the child of a single 19 year old woman/girl avoid any questions about his father from anyone outside our family right up to his death a couple of decades ago. He proudly carried the surname passed on through his mother of the grandfather he held in high regard who raised him.  He had no such feelings for the man who sired him.
ago by Rosalie Neve G2G6 Mach 1 (12.4k points)

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