Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Adoption Records

Adoption records can easily be some of the most emotionally charged records that genealogists hunt for. Searching for them can be quite tricky.

In the U.S., before 1850, when Massachusetts passed the first adoption legislation, there weren't any official adoption procedures. The laws vary from state to state about access to the records, with some states not allowing any access. Also, the laws have evolved over time. Here is a helpful timeline:

  • 1851, Massachusetts was the first state to pass legislation for the adoption process. Prior to this, check in the records for guardianship, apprenticeship and indenture records. Most likely, no legal documentation exists.
  • 1917 Minnesota is the first state to make the records confidential - open to the adoptee and the birth parents, but closed to everyone else.
  • Starting in the 1940's, states made the records secret; not even open to the adoptee or birth parents. An amended birth certificate was issued.
  • More recently, states are moving to opening up records, particularly for medical purposes,  if everyone involved agrees to it & registers on a database.

These would be the type of records to search for:
  • Adoption petitions and orders
  • Agency records
  • Bastardy bonds
  • Birth certificate
  • Census records enumerating institutions
  • Church records including baptisms
  • Guardianships
  • Hospital and medical records
  • Legislative records
  • Name changes
  • Newspapers
  • Orphanage records
  • Overseers of the Poor records
  • Probate records
The American Adoption Congress supports adult access to adoption records. Here is their state-by-state breakdown of access to adoption records:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has adoption information on their Child Welfare Gateway. They have a 60 page PDF file that has more detailed information about adoption records. Here are the two pages that cover Ohio:

These, and other resources are listed below:

     Access to Adoption Records - PDF file - A state by state listing

Find My Past - Adoption Research

The Legal Genealogist - Chasing Adoption Records

The Source: a Guidebook to American Genealogy by Loretto Dennis Szucs

These two books cover the women and children placed out from the New York City area from 1911 to 1972. They were not necessarily orphans, but were neglected or their parents couldn't care for them:

Orphan Train Riders A Brief History of the Orphan Train Era by Tom Riley

Orphan Train Riders :  Entrance Records from the American Female Guardian Society's Home for the Friendless in New York by Tom Riley

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