Who’s the daddy? Disputed cases of paternity in eighteenth-century Ulster

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This month we have PoP Director Leanne Calvert talking about men and sexuality in the 18th Century.

DNA testing has become the standard method of determining paternity. Daytime television shows, such as ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show, regularly include segments that feature disputes and arguments over paternity, usually involving multiple potential fathers. A quick mouth swab, inevitable rows, and a dramatic pause later, the question of ‘Who’s the daddy’ is solved relatively quickly. But how did those in the eighteenth-century determine paternity? In the age before DNA testing (and before daytime television hosts), how did women and men figure out who exactly was the daddy? 

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