GEORGIA, USA — If the preacher doesn’t come around too often, then you just need to wait! … Otherwise it will take an Act of the Georgia Legislature to legitimize your child’s birth … =^)
Georgia took wedlock and ‘out of wedlock’ very seriously.
Even today, various family genealogies differ on who the father of Timothy Caleb Golden was, but the Georgia Legislature announced its decision back on 31 December 1838: Caleb Golden and Nancy Beasley were Timothy Caleb Golden’s parents.
In an annual rite that occured well into the next century, end of year legislation announced the legal fathers of some Georgia-born. This was often the only proof of birth and parentage until 1919, when birth certificates were first issued.
>> There is an additional mystery about Caleb Golden: He is often listed as the son of Richard Golding (1744 GA – 1788 SC) and Susannah Wilmoth. A recent DNA test indicates that Caleb’s male descendant is haplotype ‘G2a’ … multiple male descendants of Richard Golding shows that his line is ‘R1b’.
LEGITIMATE or ILLEGITIMATE?
Until 1980, Georgia considered any child born before parents were formally married to be illegitimate … AND … and they were still deemed ‘illegitimate’ even if the parents later married.
In Georgia from 1789-1863, you did not have a legitimate marriage and children were not recognized as legitimate unless a Marriage Bann had been performed.
Real Life in the Good Ol’Days: If you were born before your parents legally married, and one or both of your parents died then a younger ‘legitimate’ sibling could argue in court that you were not entitled to any portion of the estate — and they would probably win that argument. (Death and wealth does strange things to people’s motivations).
A Marriage Bann required that a public announcement be made publicly and in writing ‘for at least three’ Sabbath days that a man and woman planned to be married. Only then could a minister or a justice of the peace marry you.
To be sure, quite a few people decided not to follow the rules, just held hands, kissed and had kids.
A 1974 court case challenged the notion of ‘legitimate birth’: In re Pickett, 131 Ga. App. 159, 160, 205 S.E.2d 522, 523 (1974).
The Georgia legislature operated until 1980 under Old English Common Law that it had the right the fix this situation by blessing and declaring a child legitimate through formal public proclamation.
>> Oddly, Georgia does not recognize Old English Common Law marriages.
Since 1980, if you fall into the category of ‘illegitimate’ then you can kinda, sorta fix this if both parents agree that you are their child: no Act of the Legislature required, but a lawyer may come in handy.
There remains some strangeness about this law; there have been subsequent court cases since 1980, such as Riggins v. Stirgus, 319 Ga. App. 790 (2013). See this source for legal explanations.
Here is a brief history of marriage laws in Georgia since the Revolutionary War era: view PDF file.
You are welcome to add to or to correct this story by contacting: Bill Golden, Norfolk1956@gmail.com
BTW – I look forward to sharing your stories, photos and in-search-of quests. Contact me at the email address above.