How to find your UK ancestors using adoption records


21 March 2019
Group_portrait_of_children_outside_a_Barnardo_home._Wellcome_L0000901-64930.jpg How to find your UK ancestors using adoption records
Do you have an ancestor in your family tree who was adopted? This needn't prove too much of a stumbling block to your family history research, as these valuable tips from genealogist Peter Humphries.

Family history research has its challenges even when you know which people you're researching. But what happens when you come to what could seemingly be a dead end and find out that an ancestor was adopted? Read on to discover what records and resources are available, and which websites can help you in your research.

Adoption records for family history

1. Adopted Childrens Register

The Adopted Children's Register was established in England and Wales on 1 January 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 held by the General Register Office rather than by Local Register Offices.

An entry in the Register will contain the adoptive details of a person but not details that relate back to the corresponding birth entry. 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 Registe,r which is subject to restricted access. The adoption certificate isa  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.

2. National Adoption Society records

The National Adoption Society (1916-1931) has undergone a number of name changes over the decades, eventually becoming known as Childlink, which in 2010 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.

3. Barnardo's Family History Service

The Barnardo's Family History Service offers a basic look-up search of the Barnardo's archive followed by a full archive package if the name is found. Records date from the 1870s.

4. Foundling children

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 for 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.

5. Thomas Coram register

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.

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Useful websites

The following websites can help you find out more about accessing and using adoption records in family history:

  • Adoption, Search, Reunion

This website runs the Locating Adoption Records database that allows users to find out where adoption records might be held. The database can be searched using information about a home, organisation or local authority. The results show the most likely current holder of the adoption records, and include full contact details so that further enquiries can be made.

  • Mother and Baby Homes

The first Mother and Baby Homes were founded in England in 1891 under the guidance of the Salvation Army. By 1968 there were a total of 172 known homes for unmarried mothers. The site has many helpful resources, including help with searching for tracing birth relatives and the details of various organisation dedicated to assisting those affected by adoption.

  • General Register Office England and Wales

Information on the following records held by the GRO:

* Adopted children register

* Adoption contact register

* Abandoned children register

* Thomas Coram register

The site also includes information on how to order a full or short adoption certificate.

  • National Records of Scotland

A guide to adoption records held by NRS and how to access and use them.

  • Barnado's Family History Service

Information from the Barnado's Family History Service covering adoptions in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Isle of Man and Eire.

Explore The GenGuide

The idea behind the GenGuide, produced by Peter Humphries, is to offer beginners and experienced genealogists and family historians an easy and convenient way to find descriptions of and information on genealogical sources. Keeping track of developments in new databases, web sites and reference books is a challenge and one of the aims of the GenGuide is to provide a facility where these resources are easily and quickly found.

Hopefully you will find targeted and relevant information and spend less time sifting through internet search results or potentially missing relevant information and web sites. Each genealogical source in the GenGuide is fully searchable by a number of individual fields or across all fields. Explore here.

(image shows a group portrait of children outside a Barnardo home and is copyright The Welcome Trust)

If you're interested in finding out more about adoption records, you can read our in-depth guide in the August 2019 issue of Family Tree. It's available to download here