How to trace adoption in the United States

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05 November 2020
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Discover useful leads to help you trace adoption records in the United States. These will help you find out more about adoption in your family, whether you are researching your own adoption, that of a recent family member, or an ancestor.

When do United States adoption records date from?

Through the 1800s and 1900s adoption was gradually introduced in the United States on a state by state basis. The earliest state to introduce formal adoption was Massachussetts in 1851. In the middle of the 20th century gradually many states chose to seal their adoption records to protect the privacy of the birth parents, adopted parents and child.

I was adopted in the United States – can I trace my birth parents?

More than half of states in America allow adopted people to view their original birth certificates and thus find their birth parents’ names – as long as the birth parents have consented. Where consent is not already provided then you may need to seek a court order. Find out more on the National Conference of State Legislatures web page here.

Where can I find United States adoption records?

You will need to look on a state by state basis (rather than a national collection). To find the statute information for a particular state, see the State Statute Search page for Child Welfare (and scroll down the page and tick ‘access to adoption records’)

Useful websites for tracing adoption records & information in the US

  • For a useful and detailed overview of background and links see the coverage on adoption research at FamilySearch
  • For tips on how to start an online tree and take a test, to see how DNA might help you trace adoption in your family see the adoption and orphanage research tips on Ancestry

I am seeking adoption records for my family history

Before the 1900s then the sorts of records you can search for to find clues about children not living with their birth parents in the US include: orphanage records, maternity homes (for unmarried mothers) and foundling hospitals (aka children’s homes). As in Britain, parentless or abandoned children tended to be placed with families or placed into institutions, rather than being formally adopted.

My ancestor was adopted in the UK

In the UK there are different adoption records for adoptions in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These official adoption records only began in the early/mid 20th century in the British Isles and vary country to country.

My ancestor was adopted in England and Wales:

Find background info for adoptions in England and Wales on 1 January 1927 or later.

My ancestor was adopted in Scotland:

Explore the guide for adoptions in Scotland on 1 October 1930 or later.

My ancestor was adopted in Northern Ireland:

Get started on tracing an adoption in Northern Ireland after 1930.

My ancestor was adopted in the Republic of Ireland:

Find information to get started on tracing adoption in the Republic of Ireland on 1 January 1954 or later.

I am adopted and wish to trace by birth family:

For England and Wales, to trace your own adoption, find valuable advice at www.gov.uk/adoption-records


If you're looking for UK ancestors using adoption records, read our article here