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Adoption records

Please note - most of the records which are referred to in this guide are closed to public access.

Adoptions before 1927

There was no legal framework for adoption and individuals often came to a private arrangement. This means there is very little chance of any documentary evidence, unless something like a letter has survived.

It is possible that before 1834 the Parish Overseers of the Poor may have arranged for a child to be cared for. This means there may be records of payments for this provision among the Overseers’ Account Books; see PD lists.

In 1834, Poor Law Unions took over financial responsibility from individual parishes and the minute books for Boards of Guardians may mention the placement of children; see C/GP and N/GP lists.

Adoptions were also arranged by adoption societies. Some, such as the Children’s Society, maintain records of the adoptions which they arranged.

Adoptions from 1927

Petty sessions

Adoption was put on a proper legal footing by the Adoption of Children Act of 1926, which came into effect the following year.

Adoptions had to be approved by magistrates in a petty sessions court and each court maintained a register.

In Norfolk, there were 28 petty sessional divisions and the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) has registers for about half of them. The registers give:

  • The date
  • Name and date of birth of the child to be adopted
  • Name and address of the birth mother and occasionally of the birth father
  • Name and address of the adoptive parents
  • Name of the person or body acting as guardian ad litem
  • The decision of the court

Please note these records are closed to public inspection for 100 years.

Files were kept on each adoption by the clerk to the petty session court. In many cases, these have been destroyed, but Norwich Magistrates’ Court has many adoption files.

Please note that these files are closed to public inspection.

Local authorities

Local authorities were given responsibility for supervising adoptions and children’s officers were appointed.

In the case of Norfolk County Council, the children’s officer was based in the education department (before the creation of the social services department in 1971) and kept a register of cases.

The register (which is closed to public access) is dated 1927-45 and is a useful indication of whether there are any papers relating to the adoption among the children’s officer’s files.

If the register records that the county council acted as guardian ad litem, there should be some relevant papers.

The children’s officer’s files

These files can be disappointing, but usually include a form signed by the birth mother relinquishing her parental rights.

There is often correspondence with the clergyman of the parish, asking for his opinion of the couple seeking to adopt.

Sometimes there can be some information about why the need for the adoption has arisen.

Children’s Committee

Occasional references to adoptions can be found in the minute books of:

  • The Children’s Committee of Norwich Board of Guardians (N/TC 3/91-97)
  • Norwich City Council (N/TC 31/3/1-9)
  • Norfolk County Council (C/C 10/79-87)

However, it should be emphasised that such references are rare.

Norfolk Adoption Service

The County Council should in theory have a file for every individual adopted in Norfolk, although this is not always the case in practice.

These records are closed for 100 years, but adopted individuals over the age of 18 have the right to apply for access to their file.

General Register Office (GRO)

The GRO keeps registers of all adoptions in England and Wales. However, only the adopted person can be given the information which links the adoption certificate with the original birth certificate.

The Adoption Act of 1976

It was envisaged that an adopted person’s break with his or her birth family would be total when the Adoption Act of 1926 was drafted.

Both birth and adoptive parents were subsequently led to believe that adopted children would never be able to find out about their origins.

The Adoption Act of 1976 changed this and gave people adopted after 11 November 1975 the right of access to their birth records, once they reached 18 years of age.

The Act also gave people adopted before 12 November 1975 the right of access to their birth records, but with the proviso that they must see a counsellor beforehand.

An appointment with a counsellor can be made through the social services department of the area where the adoption order was made or where the adopted person lives, or through the GRO.

The Adoption Contact Register

The contact register was established by the Registrar General on 1 May 1991 (under the Children Act of 1989) and enables adopted people and their birth relatives to register their willingness to be contacted. There is a one-off fee for entry onto the register.