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To be judged the reputed father

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that The Legal Genealogist is a huge fan of Michael D. Lacopo’s compelling story of identifying his grandfather, his mother’s father, through an amazing combination of genealogical sleuthing and DNA testing.1

hoosier1His blog is aptly entitled Hoosier Daddy, and if you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and waste no more time. Get over there, start back at the very beginning and read through to this week’s posting.2

So… what about a much earlier Hoosier daddy?

Say… around 1838?

The 17th of February, 1838, to be exact…?

What would the law have said about an illegitimate child — and that child’s father — back then?

In honor of my imminent boarding of a flight this morning that’s the first leg of a journey that will take me to Terre Haute, Indiana, later today, and on the 2015 Indiana Genealogical Society‘s conference on the campus of Indiana State University tomorrow, let’s take a look at the Hoosier daddy, 1838 style.

First off, where to find the law?

The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana, Adopted and Enacted by the General Assembly at Their Twenty-second Session is the official version of the Revised Indiana Code of 1838.3 It’s not the first codified version of Indiana’s statutes — that was done for the first time in 1823 and published in 1824.4 But it is the first one with this particular statute.

The law begins by providing that any unmarried woman resident in Indiana who was pregnant or who delivered a child out of wedlock (a bastard child, in the language of the statute) had the right to file a complaint with any justice of the peace accusing any person of being the father of said child.5

The justice was to hold at which both sides could be heard, personally or through an attorney, and to ask questions. At the end of the hearing,

if … such accused person shall satisfactorily appear to be the father of the child so begotten, he shall pay or cause to be paid to the woman complaining, such sum or sums of money or other property as she may agree to receive in full satisfaction; and shall further enter into bond with the overseers of the poor of the township in which such woman shall reside, and their successors in office, conditioned to save such county free from all charges toward the maintenance of said child; and in case such person shall so comply with the requisitions of this act, then the justice shall discharge such person, on his paying the costs of prosecution.6

Now the man didn’t have to accept the outcome of the hearing. He could insist on a jury trial and, if he posted bond with sureties (or was locked up pending the trial), he’d get that jury trial. The record before the justice of the peace would be admitted in evidence to the jury, the mother of the child would be allowed to testify and all other evidence as to her credibility was to be received.7

If found guilty by the jury, or if he confessed in court that he was the father, then the man

shall be judged the reputed father of such child, and shall stand charged with the maintenance thereof, in such sum or sums as the court shall order and direct, with payment of costs of prosecution; and moreover be liable to the suit of the complainant for damages; and the court shall require the reputed father to give security to perform the aforesaid or der, and in case the reputed father shall refuse or neglect to give security as aforesaid, and pay the costs of prosecution, he shall be committed to the jail of the proper county, there to remain until he shall comply with the order of the court, or until such court shall, on sufficient cause shewn, direct him to be discharged.8

If Dad didn’t pay up, or he fled (or escaped) to another jurisdiction, then the people who signed for him — his sureties on his bond — were on the hook “in the same way and manner as … against the principal … so far as related to the support of said child.”9

In short, the statute was an early form of child support order, the whole thing designed to keep the kid from becoming a drain on the public.

And, from a genealogical point of view, the perfect vehicle for the creation of records. Lots and lots of records.

Check the court records. You might just find your earliest Hoosier daddies.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Go read this,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 23 Apr 2015).
  2. Of course, if Michael doesn’t hurry up and write up the installment where his mother finally meets her father, there may never be another posting, but hey… patience is not my long suit.
  3. See William Wheeler Thornton, Indiana Statutory Construction and Citations (Indianapolis, Bowen-Merrill Co., 1887), 1028-29; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 Apr 2015). See also ibid.; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 23 Apr 2015).
  4. Ibid. See also Wikipedia (, “Indiana code,” rev. 2 July 2014.
  5. §1, “An Act providing for the support of Illegitimate Childre”n (17 Feb 1838), Chapter LI in The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana, Adopted and Enacted by the General Assembly at Their Twenty-second Session (Indianapolis: Douglass & Noel, printers, 1838), 330; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 Apr 2015).
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., §§ 3-5.
  8. Ibid., §6.
  9. Ibid., §12.
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