Natural Children, Baseborn Wretches & Putative Fathers



26 February 2014

Social transgressions in the past created some interesting language—not to mention confusing evidence when we encounter that language in the records. Take, for example, that word "natural."

In English and American Law, the term natural child has meant one born out of wedlock but acknowledged by the father. In civil law, which Louisiana has followed since its days as a colony of France and Spain, the term has been legally used to draw a contrast between biological children and adopted ones. That same connotation sometimes is seen in American heirship matters.  Also in English and American law of the nineteenth and earlier centuries, we see the cruder term baseborn (or, worse, baseborn wretch), which implies illegitimacy but could simply mean "of low birth" on the rungs of class and wealth.

The term putative father signified a man who was commonly believed, or reputed in his neighborhood, to be the biological father of a certain illegitimate child. A man may even apply this term to himself, typically in a will, when leaving property to a child whom he personally accepts as his.