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Tracing Adopted Ancestors

Jun 16, 2017 | 0 comments

So, you’ve been trying to trace a 20th Century ancestor. You’ve ordered their birth certificate, and find the marginal note “adopted” on their certificate. Does this mean your ancestor was adopted? Yes, it does.

Modern adoption

Formalised legal adoption began in 1927. Prior to this, though the term adoption was used in reference to guardianship and foster-parenthood, the status of adopted was not formally recorded. Children adopted this way did not usually have a change of name from their original birth record; though some were raised with their adoptive family’s surname. Those who did take a new surname would find it almost impossible to trace their birth families, unless the adoption was undertaken under the Poor Law Union, or a record was kept by the family themselves. It is possible that other formal records may exist which could potentially contain details of early adoptions, for example, workhouse or probate records.

The enactment of the Adoption of Children Act (1926), led to the establishment of the Adopted Children Register, (a closed register not accessible to the general public and held by the General Records Office), and the direction to the Registrar-General to mark an adopted child’s entry in the Register of Births as “adopted”.

What can you do to find out more?

If the person could still be living, you can register to join the Adoption Contact Register (  This list is not a tracing service; for contact to be established both parties must be registered, and the adoptee must have opted to allow contact. Guidance notes for birth relatives wishing to join the register can be found at

If your adopted relative is already on the list, and has expressed a desire to allow contact, then your details will be passed to your relative. However, if your relative has expressed that they do not wish to be contacted, you will not be notified.

Is it advisable to try to trace living adopted relatives via social media?

No, it is probably not the best method, as you do not know if the other person wishes to be contacted or even if they are aware that they are adopted.

Are there any other ways I can trace my adopted relative?

Adoption Support Agencies can assist in tracing relatives. It is always best to use an Ofsted registered agency, as these will offer a range of suitable support services, such as counselling. Further advice and information on tracing adopted relatives can be found at Adoption Search Reunion

What if my adopted relative is deceased?

If you are certain that your adopted relative is no longer alive, it may be possible to access their adoption records. More information about this process can be found on Descendants of Deceased Adopted Persons Group website


Useful Links & References:

(All links correct, as at 23/7/2017) adoption records website

An Introduction to Adoption Support Agencies:

Descendants of Deceased Adopted Persons Group

A useful Q&A information sheet for relatives of adopted persons who may be wishing to trace their relative:

Useful website on adoption and tracing relatives

Rogers, Colin D. (2008), ‘Looking for Parents’, The Family Tree Detective (3rd ed), Manchester University Press

Adoption of Children Act (1926)

General Records Office