In a couple of weeks, I will be travelling to Ireland for a two-week vacation. Part of my trip will be spent in the Belfast area, visiting both the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI) and the Public Record Office for Northern Ireland (PRONI).

One of the more interesting research questions I intend to investigate concerns a John Bigham, whose birth certificate from 1886 lists only his mother's name -- Mary Nelson Bigham. On the 1901 census, however, I find him living with his maternal grandparents, but his surname is given as McGaffin.

I can find no record of a marriage between Mary Bigham and a McGaffin in the intervening period; indeed, I can find no definitive record of John's mother post his birth certificate. However, John continued to use the McGaffin name right up to his death.

While McGaffin is a relatively rare name in Ireland (even with spelling variations factored in), there are a number of candidates in the local and neighbouring parishes. I'm therefore looking for additional records to narrow the field and bring further clarity to the situation.

What was the Irish practice in cases of illegitimacy in this timeframe? Was it similar to the "bastardy bonds" issued in England; if so, do these records survive today? What should I be looking for at PRONI? (Or, alternatively, in records that may be in the National Archives in Dublin?)

Are there any other records which might be of use to me?

I understand school records from the period are kept at PRONI, which could afford some insight into parents/guardianship.


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