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Every country has its own customs and culture – these may vary locally and may evolve over time.

Catholic Doctrine

In Ireland of the 1800’s and much of the 1900’s, infant/neonatal mortality was very high.  To to avoid an eternity in ‘Limbo’ according to catholic doctrine, a child was baptised as soon as possible after birth to cleanse her/him of ‘original sin’.


Godparents of the first child where often witnesses to the marriage of the parents who were most likely close relatives, possibly siblings. Later children were usually sponsored by relatives and as families were large at that time it would not have been unusual to find neighbours sponsoring a child at baptism.


Poverty was a major factor in the lives of most Irish families of the 1800’s and first half the 1900’s.  Choosing a child’s god-parent could be a strategic decision in securing the child’s future.

Unspoken Agreement

An uncle/aunt or even a grand-uncle/grand-aunt without children of their own may have been invited to ‘stand for’ (sponsor) the child in the hope that in the future that child might be in line to ‘come in for’ (inherit) any property.  The implication in the invitation although unspoken, would have been well understood by all parties to the agreement.

Securing the Childs Future

This child may have been sent to stay with his/her god-parent/s when still very young.  This served all parties, it alleviated pressure on the family of origin to provide for another child, it secured the relative in their ‘old age’ (they’d have someone to care for them) and eventually the ‘child’ inherited.  This inheritance may be very little, especially in the 1800’s as catholics were prevented by law from owning property.

This practice was very prevalent and continued in some form into the 1970’s and later