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My great-great-grandmother Leona was born in the early 1860s. She was adopted as a young child (we think less than five years old) when her mother died; her father was apparently unfit in some fashion, because she and at least one sibling were adopted. The only story my uncle ever heard was that once her father tried to visit, and she ran and hid under the bed until he left -- she always considered her adoptive parents to be her family and never showed any interest in discussing the adoption, even though my uncle (an avid family historian) had often tried to ask.

We think we know that her former last name was Booth, because she was invited to the funeral of her brother (James Booth). Unfortunately, we're not entirely sure about even that, because maybe James was adopted by the Booths rather than keeping his birth name.

We've researched town and county records (this was in or around Corning, Steuben County, New York) and haven't found a birth record for any Leona of any last name. Registering births wasn't required until a few years after she was born, though.

What are some other resources that I could try looking into that might have some record of this adoption?

Facilitators for Adoption suggested such things as local churches, which I'm starting to build a contact list for.

Are there other community organizations in the US in general, or New York State in particular, that might have been involved in adoptions at the time?

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I would actually step back a moment and search through census records for her adoptive name to try to find any additional information. Some census information can include things like birthplace, parent birthplace, etc that may help narrow down where to look for her birth info.

In addition to the church lists, be sure to try orphanage lists in New York. Being placed in an orphanage was sometimes a pre-requisite to an adoption and children would be taken in by orphanages even if they were, technically, abandoned or abused and not "orphaned" as in both parents died.

When you check church records, don't limit yourself to birth. Look for any baptismal records, confirmation records, marriage records, death, funeral, etc. Notes are often written next to them about where the person was born, baptized, etc.

Be aware that adoptions in the 1800s were often not legally formalized. Children were taken in by their new family, names changed, etc and it never went through a court. It's actually pretty rare that it would go through the courts at that time unless it was high profile or high society/large money.

Also check records of Leona's children - sometimes their census and church records will include information on the parents.

Oh - and don't limit yourself to the name "Leona" as a legal name. Try variants and, if you can narrow down dates, try Leona as a middle name as well.

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    We do have census, marriage, and death records for her, but all with her adopted name. (Whether her listed birthplace is New York because of her adopted or birth family isn't clear, unfortunately.) I hadn't considered local orphanages (we always assumed she'd just sort of gone from one home to another!) Hopefully we'll be able to find her somewhere/somehow -- thanks for the tips and advice. – Erica Mar 17 '13 at 15:25

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