Until 1927 there was no formal adoption process, although the term adoption was often applied to what we call guardianship or fostering. This did not entail a legal, or formal, change of name for a child, but the child would usually use the guardians’ or foster parents’ surname. Because guardianship and fostering were primarily private arrangements, it is extremely difficult to locate relevant records, even if any were prepared and have survived. Some records of charities (or organisations such as Dr Barnardo’s) have survived and are considered in chapter 18. It is estimated that about 300,000 children passed through Barnardo’s since it was founded in 1845.

The legal process of adoption was introduced in 1927. The GRO holds the Adopted Children’s Register which records legal adoptions under the Adoption Acts since 1 January 1927. A special form (CAS 54) has to be completed to obtain a certificate of a register entry. The index to this register gives the adopted name of the child and the date of adoption. A certificate provides the register entry which was made by the Registrar General after a court made an adoption order. It gives the court’s name, the date of the order, the date of the child’s birth and the names, occupation and address of the adoptive parents. The country and place of the child’s birth are shown from 1950 and 1959 respectively. The register and certificates do not reveal the child’s name prior to the adoption.

Most people know if they have been adopted and usually have a copy of their adoption certificate. An adopted person aged over 18, if not aware of the names of his true parents, may apply for this information to be released to him after a course of counselling, described in Rogers (132), on the problems of taking this course of action. Access to adoption papers can be granted to others, such as an adopted person’s children, but an application to court has to be made (and an applicant should obtain legal advice on the procedure). Even with information from a birth certificate, an adopted person (or his descendants) may find it difficult to research the family tree. An address given on a birth certificate may be a hospital or a temporary address of the mother. Many adopted children were illegitimate and it may be difficult to discover the father’s name. The child’s mother may have died since the adoption, or perhaps remarried, and so be difficult to trace (or she may not wish to be traced).

Furthermore, many adoption records have not survived and those that have may be held by any one of many different public or private agencies, social services departments of local authorities or archives.

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