Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read this story from the beginning then start with this post here and read through the subsequent ones concerning DNA and document discoveries that helped solve the puzzle.
I didn’t expect to find anything else concerning Mabel Earley and John “Jack” Stevenson. I had several DNA connections to John’s mother, Alexina. I had proof that Mabel’s son Douglas knew the Stevenson family from Barrhill; evidence that he decided to adopt the Stevenson name as his own; and a version of the story of events between Mabel and Jack from Stevenson cousins.
Then I discovered a set of records I hadn’t heard of previously: Sheriff Court Paternity Decrees.
Sheriff Courts are unique to the Scottish legal system. They handle both civil and criminal cases and the “Sheriff” presiding over the court is legally qualified and appointed to the position.
In April of 1909, Mabel Earley brought a case for paternity payments against John Stevenson. The case went in Mabel’s favor and John Stevenson was ordered to pay the following amounts to her:
At Ayr the Twenty fifth day of February and the Twenty third day of March both in the year 1909, in an action before the Sheriff Court of the County of Ayr, at Ayr at the instance of Mabel Earley, daughter of George Earley, Coachman and Overseer Drumlanford, Barrhill, Ayrshire Pursuer, against John Stevenson, Carrick Mill, near the Knowe by Newton Stewart Defender the Sheriff Decerned the Defender to pay to the Pursuer the sums after-mentioned, in respect he was the father of an illegitimate male child of which the Pursuer was delivered at London on the Twenty first day of December 1908 viz:- Two pounds for inlying charges and Eight pounds per annum for seven years as aliment for said child, payable said aliment quarterly in advance and beginning as from said date of birth with interest thereon from the respective dates of payment; and Six pounds eleven shillings and threepence of Expenses.
This was a significant win for Mabel – unfortunately we can assume that shortly after this, John left for New Zealand because he did not want to pay or take responsibility for the paternity. The act of not paying the amount decreed could lead to further action in the Sheriff Court. By going to New Zealand, John was beyond the reach of the law.
This record only shows the decree – it does not give any further information about any evidence brought to court to prove paternity. The National Records Office says that the records of the court proceedings, which would have included more information and evidence, were mainly destroyed after 1860. Not all single mothers took their cases to court – possibly only 10 – 15% of illegitimate births have a record amongst the cases.
Some of the Sheriff Court records are available at FindMyPast.co.uk. Not all of the records are indexed – or at least indexed properly. It may be that the record set at FMP is incomplete – when I searched for this case, it didn’t return any results. I then used the index at this website and found that there was a record. The original records are held by National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.