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Tip of the day...Adoption records

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Jonesey Report 14 Nov 2009 08:33

Discovering that someone in your family tree was adopted in or out can present problems when you are trying to discover their ancestors or descendants. Before starting your quest to learn more about them it is important to know a little bit about the adoption process and the relevant laws that will dictate what you can or are likely to be allowed to discover.

There are many reasons why someone might have been adopted. Social, such as death of a parent (or both parents), illegitimacy, divorce, desertion or abandonment. Economic, parent(s) being unable to support the child ect. In the 19th and early 20th centuries many parents actually advertised, seeking adoptive parents for their children. They did so in the hope that by doing so the child might stand a chance of a better life. Whatever the reason, the child themselves were very rarely in any way to blame for their own adoption.

Prior to the Adoption of Children Act 1926 adoptions were mainly informal affairs conducted between the child’s parents or guardians and the adoptive parents. Often the child would by taken in by other family members, friends or neighbours. Some adoptee’s would retain their original name whilst others might take the family name of the adoptive parents. As these “Adoptions” were informal you are unlikely to be able to find any official records of them. Some pre 1927 adoptions were arranged by adoption societies such as the Church of England Children's Society, who maintained records of the adoptions that they arranged. Boards of Guardians also prepared reports but unfortunately very few remain.

Adoption was put on a formal footing in 1926, following the publication of the Adoption of Children Act. From 1927 adoptions had to be approved by magistrates meeting in a Petty Sessions Court and each court maintained a register. These registers are closed to public inspection for 75 years.

The registers contain:

The date, name of the child to be adopted, & the date of birth.
The name and address of the birth mother (and sometimes the father).
The name and address of the adoptive parents, and sometimes the name of the person acting as Guardian ad Litem, and the decision of the court.
The clerk to the Petty Sessions Court kept a file on each adoption but many have been destroyed. Some may be deposited at the NRO, but are not open to public inspection.

When the act was drafted it was assumed that the adopted person’s break with the birth family would be total and it was believed that the adopted person would never be able to trace their birth roots.

Subsequent acts of parliament have amended the 1926 act to give rights to adoptees to learn about their origin and background but these rights generally restrict access to this information to the adoptee themselves not other family members.

EDIT Feb 2013:

The Norcap Adoption Contact website has now closed down.

If you were adopted or if you’re a birth relative of an adopted person, you can add yourself to the Adoption Contact Register to express an interest in finding your family. You can also use it to say you don’t want to be contacted.

Go to:

Good luck with your research.


Jilliflower Report 16 Nov 2009 12:24

Oops! I nearly missed this one uncle Jonesey as my aerial was blown down in the storm, and I am on wireless connection. I don't think I have an interest in this one but I shall bookmark it - as I do all your pearls of wisdom - it might come in useful later.


Sue Report 18 Nov 2009 22:27

That's very informative Jonesey, thank you. What do you think would have been the position in 1932? My mother was illegitimate and was brought up by her grandparents who pretended they were her parents. Would they have had to formally adopt her, or as it was in the family could it have been done without paperwork?

Thanks, Sue


Jonesey Report 19 Nov 2009 08:01

Hi Sue,

Technically I believe that the grandparents should have formally/legally adopted the grandaughter but whether they did or not, who knows?

My inclination is to think that as they brought her up "Pretenting" to be her natural parents they probably did not go through any legalising process but simply acted in loco parentis.

A member of my staff a few years ago (1980's) did exactly that. She raised her daughters illegitimate son as her own son and referred to him as such to others. Although as he grew up he was made aware of the true situation he always referred to his grandmother as "My mom" and he called his biological mother by her christian name as if she were his sister. I had a great deal of respect for his grandmother for her courage in taking on the responsibility.


Wildgoose Report 19 Nov 2009 08:20

My cousin's wife had a baby son before she married him.

The boy was raised by his maternal grandparents. He never lived with his mother after she married.

There was no 'legal' arrangement, they just did it.

He's in his mid 40's now; I assume he knows the truth. I haven't seen him in years.


Jilliflower Report 19 Nov 2009 09:11

A member of my staff was in exactly the same situation, uncle Jonesey, but even at the age of 7 the child knew the exact situation and the circumstances surrounding it. She was a very balanced child and her mother lived in the same house. SO important for the child to know her origins I feel.
thanks again,


Sue Report 19 Nov 2009 11:31

Thank you for your replies. I agree, it must help if the child is aware of the true situation. It came as a great shock to my mother when she found out. She was in her forties by then, and her real mother, her 'pretend' parents, ie her grandparents, and the brothers, who were in fact her uncles, had all died some years before. It changed the way she viewed her childhood (and actually gave a reason for the way her 'parents' had acted as they did towards her). But not easy to deal with out of the blue.

But, to return to my original point, it doesn't seem likely that there was a formal adoption does it? My mother's birth was registered in her mother's maiden name (she'd never needed to see a long version of her birth certificate!) and so it didn't need to be changed when she was brought up by her grandparents.

Regards Sue


mgnv Report 19 Nov 2009 12:05

The dates vary slightly throuout the UK. The relevant UK acts are:
Adoption of Children Act, 1926
Adoption of Children Act (Northern Ireland), 1929
Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930


brummiejan Report 19 Nov 2009 13:44

n for Sally


Jonesey Report 19 Nov 2009 13:49

Hi Island,

I doubt that it was normal practice but I would think that there were almost certainly instances where that did happen.


Sally Report 19 Nov 2009 14:11

Hi Jonesey - thanks for the nudge Jan.
Is there any way I could trace an adopted person do you think without having to spend thousands of pounds!!!!!!!?????? I am sure I remember years ago when I went to St Catherines House there was a register of all the adoption which we could look at - obviously you'd have to go through thousands of names but luckily cause I had my dads adoption certificate I knew who his biological parents were and found the entry. Unfortunately a sister of his was also adopted - I know where her file is and have been in touch with the people who have it but all I was told was I could write a letter to her and they would put it in her file if she ever requested to see the file - so would be very surprised if I get anywhere like that (although I have written a letter). Any other ideas please - SAL


ElizabethK Report 19 Nov 2009 14:27

In the last series of the Family History programmes which run on BBC 4 from timt to time (listeners are asked to submit questions) one of the Questions was "how do I find out who my father was when I am illigitimate and adopted before 1927 ?"

This was put to the guest research specilist and he actually found him !

His advice was to check the passport applications-I think he said that applications for passports before 1934 for adopted children had to give full details of the childs parentage.
I gather this was how he found this particular lady's father's name.


Sally Report 19 Nov 2009 14:51

If the person was adopted after 1934 would the same apply for passport applica tions do you think???? The person I am tracing was adopted after 1939 (don't know the date) - when my dad was adopted he was nearly 3 as he was in the Childrens Society Home from a year and half old. I still don't understand really why he was adopted - he was the eldest boy and took his grandfathers name!!! His sister the eldest was kept but apparently went to a friends house down the road from where they lived. The third one we can't find and the forth was kept till he was 4 then sent to a childrens home near Chester (they all lived in London) and then the 5th which I am trying to find was adopted!!!????? Who knows what went on in those days!!


Jonesey Report 19 Nov 2009 15:06


What a sad tale. I don't know the answer to the dilema and confess that I did not know about the passport application system which has been mentioned. The problem with that of course being that not too many people would be travelling abroad at that time in any case.

Like I mentioned in my original post there were many reasons why children were either put/taken into care and subsequently adopted. Maybe in this case there was illness in the family, perhaps of the mother which is why the eldest daughter remained in the household for a while after her brothers ended up in childrens homes. It sounds as if this all happened during wartime so as you say who knows what happened then. Normal life if there is such a thing certainly ceased for many.

Good luck with your research.


Jonesey Report 19 Nov 2009 15:24


The problem with family stories is that they frequently get distorted as the years roll by. 100 years is a very long time. Like most people there were family stories that I heard. In most cases there was a grain of truth in them but equally through research I have discovered that either I or the person who passed the story on to me had misinterpreted some of the facts.

Rather than being adopted in is it possible that at some stage in their lives the children were adopted out of the family instead. Have you managed to follow your great uncle and his wife or indeed the children themselves forward in time to see what became of them?


Sally Report 19 Nov 2009 17:36

Yes Jonesey - it is rather - but I am not giving up and with the help of kind people on here I may be able to go further - Hopefully might find the other brother - at least we found one (just so happens he lives in Australia!!! but we are in constant contact and hopefully he will come over soon and meet Dad and us) thanks for the info anyway - SAL


Sheila Report 11 Jan 2011 10:16

HI Jonsey;

Are you still around on this site ? :O)


Jonesey Report 11 Jan 2011 15:46

Hi Sheila,

Yes I am still alive and kicking and a fully paid up member of GR.

~~~Secret Red ^^ Squirrel~~~  **007 1/2**

~~~Secret Red ^^ Squirrel~~~ **007 1/2** Report 13 Jan 2011 22:27

A useful post to nudge....i think someone mentioned adoptions earlier


Madmeg Report 14 Jan 2011 00:39

The wife of my husband's cousin was adopted almost at birth, she has always known that. Her husbands family are keen on family history and I've provided them all with what I've found so far. This lady expressed an interest in getting her birth and adoption records, so I furnished her with the information to do so, but she thought about it and decided not to.

Is that the end of it? You say adoption records are protected for 75 years (this lady is in her 80s), so does that mean that at some point I would be able to access her records? I have no intention of doing so while she is still alive, that would be insensitive.