Your Guide to Finding
Orphaned and Adopted Ancestors

History and Background of Adoption in the United States

Guides On the Web

Adoption in Early America

Legal age in colonial america is an important concept. Generally children over the age of 14 could choose their own guardian.

Guardianships: to protect the property of the infant, see to his maintenance and education.

Indenture / Apprenticeships (binding out/putting out)

Name Changes

Provision for inheritance through wills - including step children, illegitimate children and “adopted” children

Town Records

Town and miscellaneous local records might contain a wide variety of information that name children under the care of others, including the maintenance of poor families, the binding out of poor children (children without guardians) and (very, very rarely) statements of adoption.

Example that includes name changes, town records and inheritance:

Institutions: Poor houses, Orphanages and Maternity Homes

Parens Patriae - the state has an obligation (and right) to look after citizens who can not fend for themselves; the government as parent.

Poor Houses housed children and adults; children were sometimes bound out from the poor house (almshouse)

Orphanages, Children's Homes, Maternity Homes

Orphan Trains:ca 1854-1929

Program ended in 1929

More Links

Adoptions Laws & Records

Later 20th Century records tend to be sealed (not always), but in some states adoption records prior to 1930 can be obtained from the court. It may be necessary to request the records in person. Prior to and into the early 20th century, adoptions were not necessarily formalized.

In general, when adoptions are formalized, that happens in the appropriate court of jurisdiction for a given state -- the title of the court will vary. It may be called probate, Circuit, Surrogate, Chancery, Common Pleas or something else.

Whitmore. The Law of Adoption in the United States and Especially in Massachusetts (reprint of 1876) (Find in a library) (Read Google copy online ) ( Google Ebook for $10) Laws as they existed in 1876.

Current state laws regarding child welfare (select adoption topics to find laws on adoption)

Non identifying information: how used in the Search for Evelyn

Newspaper reports

Searches for living persons :

Books and Articles on Adoption Searches

More Links:

Cyndi's List: Adoptions


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This page last updated January 28, 2013