This guide outlines the different sources available relating to adoption, only some of which are held by Derbyshire Record Office.
Updated 19 June 2020.
Note: Information about adoptions and adoptees can only be released to adoptees and must be obtained through the County Council’s Data Protection team.
Adoption since 1927
The National Register of Adoptions for England and Wales was established in 1927 an act of 1926. In part, this was a response to the high number of orphans from World War One and illegitimate children of soldiers. The Register records adoptions granted by courts since 1927. Adoptees can order a copy of their adoption certificate from the General Register Office online or by writing to them.
Under the Children’s Act (1975) adopted children over 18 may apply for access to their original birth record, giving date and place of birth, name at birth, and mother’s name. The father’s name is not always included. Individuals adopted in England or Wales before 12 November 1975 are asked to see a nominated counsellor before they can be given access to their records. Individuals adopted after 11 November 1975 can choose whether or not to see a social worker for counselling before a copy birth certificate is issued.
Between 1959 and 1984, records of adoption had to be kept for 25 years; from 1984, the retention period was extended to 75 years after which point the records should be destroyed; this increased to 100 years from 2005. Therefore, depending on the date of the adoption, not all records will have survived to the present day.
Obtaining information about your adoption
Derbyshire Record Office cannot process any requests for information about adoptions, we can only confirm if we hold any relevant records. Due to the personal and sensitive information contained in the court registers, they are not generally available for public consultation. To obtain information about your adoption, please contact the County Council’s Data Protection team (or call 01629 533190). The team will then contact us to obtain the full information from the records (see below), as well as determine if there are any other records available elsewhere.
Records held by Derbyshire Record Office
Records held include juvenile court registers which may contain information about adoptions and for some Derbyshire courts there are specific adoption registers. Generally such registers are available from the early 1930s, when cases were kept in a register separate to the main court register. Generally the record does not include much information that wouldn’t already be found on the adoption certificate, but the information can vary between different cases.
The Record Office does not hold any adoption case files. For adoptions arranged by charities, such as Barnardo’s or The Children’s Society, it advisable to contact them directly about the records available. The BAAF’s guide on ‘Where to find adoption records’ (2002) is available in the local studies collection or see the BAAF website for the most current information.
As of November 2015, procedures have been established for descendants of persons adopted between 1927 and 2005, subject to certain conditions. The procedures require that information is obtained through an intermediary agency. Details of such agencies can be obtained from the Adoption East Midlands.
Adoption before 1927
There were no official adoptions before 1927, although private informal arrangements for ‘long-term fostering’ were often made. As a result there are generally no formal records; however, there are a number of sources that may provide some information to indicate who took care of individual or groups of children.
- Overseers of the Poor: may include records of bastardy and apprenticeship, settlement and removal. Since 1575, parents of illegitimate children could be imprisoned, and pauper children were often apprenticed by the parish from 1597. Under Knatchbull’s Act of 1722, children of vagrants could be apprenticed (usually by the parish) against the will of parents. Search the catalogue for the relevant Anglican parish to see what records have survived: in the title field enter ‘parish’ and then the place name in question. We also recommend selecting ‘Fonds’ from the Level field drop-down box. You can then click the link to see the full catalogue list for the parish collection.
- Census: some families or enumerators may specify in the return that a child is ‘adopted’, and the child may or may not have the same surname – if not, this can help trace one or both of their birth parents
- Poor Law Union (after 1837): may include registers of children “boarded out” in the community under the responsibility of the Board of Guardians who also ran the workhouses. Generally these children are aged over 5 and were boarded-out rather than housed at the workhouse.
- County Quarter Sessions and local Petty Sessions: may also include bastardy records and examinations, 1733-1862 (see reference Q/RV)
- Probate records: individuals will often leave bequests to children they have informally adopted or fostered.
- Hospital records: a small number of early maternity records do survive. Access restrictions apply to records dated within the last 100 years.
Derbyshire Record Office holds records for St Christopher’s Railway Home (formerly Railway Servants’ Orphanage), 1875-1992. Information about the records held can be found via the online catalogue, under reference D3732. Records less than 100 years old referring to individuals are not generally available for public consultation. To request information out your own records, please contact us about submitting a Data Subject Access Request. Subject to approval of the controller of the records, we can undertake searches for individuals no longer alive, under the terms of our Research Service.
- Advice from the UK Government – gov.uk/adoption-records
- The Norcap Register was established to help and support adoptees with family history enquiries
- Adoption Search Reunion provides information for adopted people, birth relatives and adoptive parents in England and Wales
The following guides are also available in the Local Studies Library:
- Georgina Stafford (2002) Where to find adoption records: a guide for counsellors, adopted people and birth relatives (British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering)
- For information on pre- and post-1927 records see Family History Monthly (Jan 2006, pp. 20-24)
- For information particularly regarding tracing relatives and ancestors see Practical Family History (Dec 2008, pp. 50-57).