An illegitimate child is one born of
parents who are not married to each other.
| Broadly speaking, in most cultures, if the father
of a child is not married to its mother, the child
is a bastard, or illegitimate. An unwed mother
could know the father of her child: he might be a sweetheart,
employer, or even a relative. But she might
not know the name of the father of the child because
she was raped by an unknown assailant, or, if
promiscuous, she may have been impregnated by one of
many men she had had relations with.
Many, perhaps the great majority, of illegitimate
children were abandoned, or killed outright, but some
were also kept by their unwed parent or parents.
And while most abandoned children were illegitimate,
some were not, even though any child whose
parents were unknown was considered to be, and
treated as, a bastard.
The civil birth record below is in the format
used in the Kingdom of theTwo Sicilies from
1820 through 1865. Births in some cases were reported by the mother
of the infant, or by a midwife, who named the
mother, in which the father was reported as
"padre ignoto" (father unknown) or "padre
incerto" (father uncertain). It's an 1824 birth record from
the town of Marianopoli,
for Salvatore Randazzo. Though illegitimate,
he was not abandoned, as his mother is named as
Santa Randazzo. He had a
valid surname, notwithstanding that it was his
mother's surname. As in the cases where
the father was known, the child's surname is not
specifically given in the main record, as it is the
same as his mother's.
From Marianopoli Registri
Stato Civile Film 1438609, 1824 Births, No. 28,
The above record (two pages) is in the format used in the
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from 1820 through 1860, and
in some of the independent northern duchies and city-states
from 1861 through 1865 (there was no country by the name
'Italy' at the time). The left hand side gives details of the
birth, while the right side acknowledges the baptism of the
newborn. Only the left side of the first page is
transcribed and translated below.
del mese di
Luglio alle ore
avanti di Noi
ed uffiziale dello
stato civile del comune di
Valle di Caltanis-
setta è comparsa
domiciliatia in Mariano-
la quale ci ha pre-
ocularmente riconosciuto, ed ha
che lo stesso
S'ignora il Padre
sudetto del mese
ha inoltre dichiarato di
il nome di
of the month of
and official of the
civil status of the town of
Territory of Caltanis-
setta has appeared
who has pre-
who We have seen
acknowledged with our own eyes,
and has declared
that the same [infant]
is born of
and of an
on the day
of the month of
in the house
[declarant] has also declared having given to the [child]
the name of
The rest of the left portion states that the registration of the
birth was witnessed by Felice di Marco, age 42, and by Michele
lo Vullo, age 40, both peasant sharecroppers, subjects of the
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, both domiciled in Marianopoli,
who were brought to the registration by Signora Abate. It
continues with a statement that the record is signed by the
official only, the declarant and the witnesses being illiterate.
It is signed by Pastor Carmine lo Porto, representative of Mayor
The right side of the record states that on 3 July 1824
the pastor of the Chiesa Madre (main church) returned the
notice of birth to the town officials, acknowledging that the
sacrament of baptism had been administered to Salvatore
Randazzo on the same day. That portion was also
signed by Pastor lo Porto. Salvatore Randazzo was an
illegitimate child, but he was not an orphan or a foundling,
and his mother and surname were known.
Illegitimates - continued
The format used for birth records changed in 1866, and while the
new nation of 'Italy' was developing new laws,
records were completely handwritten from 1866
through 1874. In 1875 new, somewhat shortened
pre-printed forms were used that left out some of
the information that was present in earlier records.
The most obvious difference in the new forms was the
absence of the 'split' right side of the form, and
any mention of sacraments or the church.
Dissatisfaction with the church, its power and
influence was a main reason for the 'unification of
Italy', and there was a schism between church and
state in the new nation.
While the church still recorded and maintained
administration of the sacraments, baptism,
confirmation, marriage and extreme unction (death
benediction), new laws required that the civil
status of citizens be records in separate civil
records of birth, marriage and death. The 'Atti
di Nascita' shown in the above section on
orphans is an example of such a civil birth record.
In the usual record of this type, the child's father
was the 'declarant' who presented the child and gave
the details of the child's birth, his own age,
occupation and address and the name of his wife, the
mother of the child.
However, after 1865, there were records similar to
Salvatore's, shown above. In a
typical record of this type after unification, the
person presenting the child was the mother herself,
or a female relative or midwife. The child's
birth particulars and the mother's age, occupation
and address were given, but where the record usually
said "born of [father's name]", it would read "nato
naturale con un uomo, non minore, non maritato, non
parenti, ne affine con lui nei gradi che ostano al
riconoscimento, che non consente essere nominata"
meaning of that phrase is: "born of
her unwed union with a man, not a minor, unmarried,
not a relative and not of close enough consanguinity that would
proscribe their acknowledgement of the child, and
the man does not wish
to be identified". The reason for
this wording is due to the Italian Civil Code of
1865: Book I, Chapter VI, which includes
Article 180, stating that a child born of
parents who were closely related could not be
acknowledged by either parent. Such liaisons
were rarely officially admitted, with one or the
other of the parents declaring 'in good faith' that
they did not know of the consanguinity.
As in the previous case, the child would bear the
surname of the mother. The father would be
officially unknown, but with the twist that the
father was known by the mother, but not specifically
named. Again, children whose births were
recorded in this way were
illegitimate, but they were not orphans
or foundlings, their mothers were known and
were recorded as the surname of the mother.
Illegitimates - continued
As noted above, in some instances a
man would present a child and say that it
was "born of his unwed union with a woman, not a
minor, unmarried, not a relative and without
consanguinity that would prohibit their
acknowledgement of the child, and the woman does not wish to be identified".
What? The father of the child was known, but
not the mother?
Having a child out of wedlock was a ‘vergogna’,
a disgrace, not only to the woman, but to her
family. Having her name officially recorded would
magnify that disgrace. Obviously, the man knew who
his child’s mother was, as did the whole town,
probably, but a woman could decline to be named, so
that she would not be officially shamed.
Below is an example of this type of record, for
the 1898 birth of Cataldo Migliore in Serradifalco.
A portion of the record was at the bottom of a page,
and it was continued on the next page. IN this
case, because the father presented the child, its
surname was that of the father's.
From Serradifalco Registri
Ecclesiastici Film No. 1964311, 1908 Births, No. 23,
Cataldo Migliore, Ancestry.com image 10/151
the occupation or the
one thousand nine hundred eight,
, in the Town Hall.
second councilman acting as vice
Mayor due to the indisposition of he
and the first councilman
Official of the Civil Status of the
Town of Serradifalco
domiciled in Serradifalco,
who has declared to me that at hour
minutes ____ of day
in the house located at
union with an
unmarried woman, not a
relative, nor of a degree
of consanguinity that would prohibit
acknowledgement of the child
was born an infant of
sex who he presented to me, and to
whom he gave the name of
To the above presentation and this
registration were present the
sulfur miner, and
both residents of this Town.
I read this record to those
assembeled, but it is signed by me
alone, they having said they don't
know how to write.
After unification, civil
authorities did not recognize church marriages.
To be legally married, a couple must be wed in the
'Casa Comunale', the Town Hall, by the official
of the civil status of the town. Church marriages
were "illegitimate", as were any children born to
the couple, and those children were so reported in
the civil birth records. Again, the mother was
not named, to protect her ‘official’ identity.
Many devout couples did not see the need to be
married civilly, as they believed they were 'married
in the eyes of God'. However, when a child was
born to such a couple, the mother had a choice: be
officially named as an unwed mother in the child's
record of birth; or invoke the phrase about not
wishing to be named. To avoid this, most
couples were married twice: in the traditional
church wedding, and a day or two before or after the
canonical wedding, in a civil ceremony in the Town
This is why I often use quotes with the words "unwed"
and "illegitimate", to signify that the couples may
not have been officially married, but they
had been married in a church ceremony.
There were scattered instances of feisty women who
probably thought "damn the torpedoes" and not only
appeared at their child’s registration, but had
their names recorded, most likely believing “I
was married in church, so there!” These
women would be named, with their names followed by
the phrase "non congiugata" or "non
maritata" (not married). But for
her children to qualify to inherit property, or for
her to eventually be named on the children’s
marriage records or passports, she would have to, at
some point, file an official "rettificazione"
(correction) or marry in a civil ceremony.
That would record any children’s names and dates of
birth, and declare them legitimate, by power of the
As previously, if the father's surname is
given, it is not repeated in the body of the record
for the child. From the above example, the
Cataldo Migliore the son, even though his father was
illegitimate, and his mother was
However, there were 'margin notes' in the
birth record that I did not translate above.
They're shown again below, with a translation.
the legitimate son of the
couple Cataldo Migliore and Onofria
Giarratano, by the subsequent matri-
mony celebrated on 19th May 1918
(signed by the clerk)
On 26 September 1929 he married
(initialed by the
So ten years after
Cataldo Migliore was born, he was 'legitimized' by
the marriage of his parents. It's very likely
that he was brought up in his biological parents'
household, and that he, his neighbors, the town
officials, and possibly the whole town knew who his
parents were. But until he was officially
declared theirs in their marriage record, he was