Researching an adopted ancestor can be challenging but there are steps you can take to learn more about their birth and origins. Ancestry ProGenealogist, Simon Pearce, offers useful guidance and resources from around the world for uncovering these details.
Formal adoption was introduced in England and Wales on 1 January 1927 with the establishment of the Adopted Children Register (ACR). Although adoption had been in practice before this date, adoption was on a far more informal footing and the paper-trail is almost non-existent.
The General Register Office for England and Wales maintains the ACR. For further details regarding certificates relating to children on the ACR see the following PDF on the General Register Office website. It should be noted that birth certificates within the ACR will only contain the child’s adoptive information and will not contain details corresponding to their original birth entry. For formal, post-1926 adoptions occurring before 2005, the relatives of adopted people now have the right to use an intermediary adoption service to access some of that person’s records; before 2014 only the adopted individual had that right. The GOV.UK website has more information on this service.
For ‘adoptions’ prior to 1927, the following steps may assist you with your searches.
Poor Law Unions, created in 1834, often dealt with the ‘adoption’ of orphans and foundlings and the details of where they were placed are sometimes found in their minute books. Prior to the Poor Law Act of 1834, such matters were often dealt with by the Parish Overseers and may be recorded in their account books. Check with the local record office or county archives to see if the minute and account books are available to researchers.
Some children were admitted to homes for deprived children such as those established by Thomas John Barnardo. Barnardo’s archive contains records dating from the 1870s relating to children who received care from the organisation or who were adopted via Barnardo’s. Access to Barnardo’s records is outlined on their website.
John Throgmorton Middlemore founded the Children’s Emigration Homes in Birmingham in 1872, with the aim of providing impoverished and or orphaned children with a new life overseas. Up until 1932 the Middlemore homes assisted children in their homes and children in other institutions to immigrate to Canada. Known as ‘Home Children’, they also facilitated immigration to Australia too. Birmingham Archives contains records relating to Middlemore Homes, including admission registers. Often regarded as a source of cheap labour, for many children who were part of the scheme it proved to be a very difficult experience.
Library and Archives Canada also holds records relating to Home Children between 1869 and 1932, some of which can be searched online.
If you are researching children who settled in Australia, the following guide available on the National Archives of Australia website may be of assistance.
- If a child settled in Canada, the Canadian censuses may contain references to their situation; the relationship to the head of the household section may state ‘Adopted’ or their occupation may be recorded as ‘Barnardo’s child’ or words to that effect.
- Consult the UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 or the Canada, Arriving Passengers Lists, 1865-1935 for evidence of children leaving the UK and entering Canada or Australia.