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Adoption Records

Nature of Source

Records of adopted children registered in the Adopted Children's Register which was established in England and Wales on January 1st 1927, in Scotland in 1930, in Northern Ireland in 1931 and in the Republic of Ireland in 1953. The register contains details of all adoptions legally authorised by a court in England and Wales and is only held by the General Register Office and not by Local Register Offices. An entry in the Register will only contain the adoptive details of a person and has no information that relates back to the corresponding birth entry. Before 1927 a loose arrangement existed whereby children were in effect privately fostered in secret by the adopted parents who held no legal rights. Some documentation might survive if the arrangement involved a solicitor or an organisation, however it is almost impossible to trace these arrangements. Most children were fostered due to illegitimacy.

A person over the age of 18 adopted after the 1976 Adoptions Act was granted the automatic right to discover their birth parents and gain access to their adoption file. Those adopted before 1976 were also given this right but were required to submit to a course of counselling. All relatives and descendants of an adopted person and not just the adoptee and their birth relatives are able to access an intermediary service to identify the person’s birth parents.

The original birth index entry is marked as adopted, however the only complete register of adoptees remains the Adopted Children's Register which is subject to restricted access. The adoption certificate is certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children Register and replaces the original birth certificate for the adoptee. This certificate, available in short or long format, becomes the legal document for official purposes. The short version makes no mention of an adoption or the parents.

Also check the records of the National Adoption Society (1916-1931) which has, over the years, undergone a number of name changes eventually becoming known as Childlink. In 2010 Childlink joined forces with Parents And Children Together. Contact Parents And Children Together for details on gaining access to the adoption records in their archives. Other National Adoption Society records are held at London Borough of Brent Archives. The records of another related organisation called the National Children Adoption Association (1917-1978) are under the control of the Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham Tri-borough Adoption Team. Written requests should be addressed to 4th Floor, Town Hall Extension, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 9JU, telephone: 0800 781 2332. The Salvation Army operates a Family Tracing service but this is not applicable for adoption cases.

Many homeless children of destitute parents were cared for at Dr Barnardo's Homes and later placed with foster parents. The organisation offers the Barnardo's Family History Service which involves a basic look up search of the Barnardo's archive plus a full archive package if the name is found. Records date from the 1870s. Some children were abandoned at foundling hospitals with the records for London now held at the London Metropolitan Archives. The most rewarding records include the Apprenticeship Registers, 1751-1951. These are indexed alphabetically with most children apprenticed at age 14 years; Billet Books; Petitions for admission; Baptism Registers; Nursery Books; Inspection Books; Registers of children sent to Country Hospitals and Registers of Claimed Children. For more information on these valuable sources see the LMA Information Leaflet Finding Your Foundling and search the LMA online catalogue using the Reference Code A/FH for a full listing of the collection and other useful information.

The Thomas Coram Register is a list of children given into the care of the Foundling Hospital between the years 1853 and 1948. Captain Thomas Coram established the first Foundling Hospital by Royal Charter in 1741, funded by subscription. Further enquires about the register and applications for certificates of register entries should, in the first instance, be made to Coram formerly known as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. The actual index is held by the General Register Office. Until 1948, children entering a foundling hospital were given different names. Others were put into the care of the Catholic Children's Society who offer the services of the Adoption and After Care Team for those seeking help and advice in relation to adoption. A child admitted to the Foundling Hospital was baptised and given a new name to prevent a fraudulent attempt to claim the child and to allow the biological mother to potentially claim back her child.

Where Found

General Register Office (Adopted Children's Register. Restricted access)
National Records of Scotland (For events registered in Scotland. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
General Register Office for Northern Ireland (For events registered Northern Ireland)
County Record Offices (Private papers and records of adoption societies)
London Metropolitan Archives (Records of the Foundling Hospital established by Royal Charter on 17 October 1739 by Thomas Coram as a refuge for abandoned children)
Children's Society Records and Archive Centre
(The Children's Society Post Adoption and Care Service. The is an 'Access to Records' only Service. This involves sharing records with those who were either adopted or in the care of The Children’s Society. The Children's Society was established in 1881 and originally known as the Waifs and Strays' Society with The Society had children's homes throughout England and Wales and provided care and accommodation for impoverished and disadvantaged children. The History Blog provides stories focussing on the Society’s history)

Period Covered

1927 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Adopted Children Register

Name of adopted child and date of adoption.
Full Certificate
Name, sex, place and date of birth of adopted child; Names, occupations and address of adoptive parents; Date of adoption and name of court.
The names of the child's natural parents are not shown regardless if one of the parents is the birth mother or father or the child's original surname.
Short Certificate
Name, sex, date of birth and country or district of birth of adopted child.
The short version makes no mention of an adoption or the parents.

Adoption Order Records

Child's new name and former name; Names of child's new parents, child's address at the time of adoption; Natural mother's name and address; Date of adoption.

Further References

Annal, David & Collins, Audrey. Birth, Marriage and Death Records: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2012
Bali, Karen. Researching Adoption: An Essential Guide to Tracing Birth Relatives: Family History Partnership, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon
Cohen, Deborah, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day: Viking, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Elliott, Sue. Love Child: A Memoir of Adoption, Reunion, Loss and Love: Vermilion, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Hopwood, Doreen. Adoption Records in England and Wales - a brief guide to Adoption. In: Blatchford, Robert (ed). The Family and Local History Handbook 7: The Genealogical Services Directory, 2003 Buy Now on Amazon
Levene, Alysa, Childcare. Health and Mortality at the London Foundling Hospital 1741-1800: Manchester University Press, 2007 Buy Now on Amazon
Robinson , Jane. In the Family Way: Illegitimacy Between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties: Viking, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon
Rossini, Gill A Social History of Adoption in England and Wales 1850-1961: Pen & Sword Books, 2014
Stafford, Georgina. Where to Find Adoption Records: British Agencies for Adoption and Counselling, (3rd ed) 2002 Buy Now on Amazon

Websites (British Association for Adoption & Fostering) (The Foundling Museum)
(Adoption Search Reunion website: This website is intended to be the first port of call for anyone thinking about searching for or making contact with birth and adopted relatives or researching an adoption that took place in the UK. They run the Locating Adoption Records database which allows users to search for past and present homes, organisations, local authorities and staff members) (Adopted adults and adult birth relatives: Tracing and contact) (GOV.UK Guide: Adoption Records with section on Accessing your birth records, The Adoption Contact Register and Intermediary agencies) (General Register Office: How to order an adoption certificate) (Mother and Baby Homes: The site is devoted to the Mother and Baby Homes which were created to provide support to unmarried pregnant women who often gave their children up for adoption. The first homes appeared in England in 1891 under the guidance of the Salvation Army in London. By 1968 there were a total of 172 known homes for unmarried mothers. The site includes a many helpful resources including help with searching for tracing birth relatives and the details of various organisation dedicated to assisting those affected by adoption) (Adopted At Birth - 'Your Family History' magazine reader comments) (Guide to divorce and matrimonial causes) (Researching Adopted Persons in England & Wales) (Natural Parents Network. The site is for natural parents and relatives who have lost children to adoption. The organisation offers non-judgmental, confidential and independent support to people who share similar experiences) (Adoption Search Reunion: Locating and accessing adoption records) (Barnardo's information leaflet: Adoption) (UK Birth Adoption Register: Site allowing adoptees and birth parents to register an interest in making contact) (National Records of Scotland: Research Guides: Adoption Records) (Cyndi's List adoption links)