I have just tried to help with a question elsewhere on adoption and it has fuelled me with a fresh question. Someone wanted to find a connection between a family who "adopted" an illegitimate child, and the family of the birth mother.

Unfortunately, I could find no connection. I had a similar situation in my own family and could find no connection there either, e.g. geographical, by marriage, or occupational.

Since adoption was not formalised until about 1926, I had concluded that a third-party was probably involved. My SE question is therefore: were there people who facilitated these arrangements back in 19th century England, e.g. for money? If there were then are there any documentary references?

  • Also, did similar roles exist in the US? Commented Dec 23, 2012 at 23:10
  • A good place to begin your investigations (re the UK) would be with the terms Workhouse or Poor Law Union. This was an official body charged with the "management" of the indigent, the destitute, the aged or the abandoned. Fostering (or even adoption) was certainly a viable, low-cost response to an over-supply of illegitimate children.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 4:58
  • Also consider the church as a source for this type of event. There is a scandal in Spain currently about the church's involvement in adoptions as recently as post WW2, so the church were definitely involved in it here. There may be entries in church records for this.
    – Colin
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 5:59
  • Thanks for the suggestions of Church, Workhouse, and Poor Law Union. In the latest case I was looking at, the two families were in small villages on opposite sides of a major town. Hence, there was no single parish involved.
    – ACProctor
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 13:24
  • 1
    @GeneGolovchinsky, I suspect the situation in the UK and US were sufficiently different that your should be a separate question.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


Depending on the dates involved, you should investigate Barnardos and the Salvation Army, both of whom assisted in adoptions.

Poor Law Unions also placed orphan or pauper children with families, some of whom went on to adopt them informally. (I have an example in my own family tree where a Henry Roberts, pauper child, was living with a Jones family in 1871 but from 1881 at least had taken their name and gave the father as his father when he married. Poor Law Unions each covered multiple parishes, particularly in rural areas. If you're not already aware of it http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ is an excellent resource.

Also, don't discount a family link, even if you haven't found it yet. I have a great-aunt Mary Jane who was adopted in the 1890s soon after her birth by another couple living in North Wales, even though my great-grandparents were having/raising more children in South Wales. My grand-mother and her siblings referred to Mary Jane's adoptive siblings as Uncles, but nobody has been able to trace a family link.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.