Was One of Your Ancestors Adopted?
For genealogy enthusiasts, adoptions within their family history may create a stumbling block due to a lack of records — particularly if the adoption occurred in the era before open adoptions happily became the norm. Often, the paper trail that our ancestors left behind can end with one person. This could be a sign that this ancestor may have been adopted.
A History of AdoptionThe concept of adoption is an ancient one that goes back beyond recorded history. Adoption even exists within other species of the animal kingdom. But adoption was once an informal and rarely-discussed event within families. Modern open adoptions are infinitely more emotionally healthy, mutually beneficial for everyone involved, and more celebrated than they were in the not-so-distant past. Open adoptions are now the standard thanks to the research that has shed light on the generally negative nature of most closed adoptions and the benefits of open adoptions. In the past, adoptions were often secretive, complicated and left large gaps in the personal histories of the adoptee — which creates even bigger gaps for their descendants who are researching their own family tree. Typically, few (if any) records will exist of the adoption, so family researchers are left to puzzle together whether or not an adoption may have been the reason for missing information in their genealogical research.
What Adoption Means for People Piecing Together Their Family HistoryBecause adoption wasn’t as well-regulated, well-talked about, or well-documented as it is today, past adoptions can leave you with inaccurate information about birth dates and biological family members, confusing timelines, and other inconsistencies in your research. Could that ancestor who suddenly pops up or disappears in records have been adopted? Adoption adds a whole new family tree into your personal history, so your familial history begins to look more like a forest! This is common, but it can make sorting through historical records a bit more confusing.
How to Tell If an Adoption Occurred Within Your FamilyAgain, because adoption records of the past weren’t always very clear, you’ll likely have to rely on indications and clues that an adoption occurred. Terms or documents that can sometimes indicate an adoption of a family member could include:
- An apprenticeship
- A guardianship
- Probate records that mention a child’s name for the first time or mention a birth mother
- Census records that include new children with different surnames
- Census records that include residents of orphanages or adoption agencies, then a similar name is also included in later family census records
- Juvenile court documents
- Poor farm records
- State charity, children’s homes, or social service agency documents or correspondence
- Travel records that could indicate an Orphan Train adoption
- Original and/or amended birth certificates
- “AD son” or “AD daughter” on census records indicates the listing of an adopted child
- Name changes
- Newspapers that include adoption hearings, advertisements regarding paternity or adoptions, etc.
- Adoption petitions within local or state legislative records