Saturday, June 22, 2013

Adoption in Genealogy

Adoption in genealogy became an interest of mine when I discovered that my 3rd great-grandparents William Patrick Jordan and Georgiana Farmiloe had adopted a son named Harry L Lynch. For some reason it surprised me. I don't know why, but it just wasn't something I was expecting. It was a pleasant surprise though! My 3rd great-grandparents did an awesome thing by adopting Harry and I'm sure he was loved and taken care of by them. Just look at this family:
Jordan Family (1903)
Floss (Florence), Mary (Holding George (Dumas)), Grace
Mabel, Georgiana (Farmiloe), William, Lillie
Bill, Mary, Walter (an orphan)
(Click to enlarge)
(Enough parentheses for you?)
I mean really! William Patrick Jordan (Admittedly my favorite ancestor) is such a proud papa bear surrounded by his kids. grandkids, and possibly another adopted child, little orphaned Walter. Georgiana looks like a strong, hard working woman. I wish I could go back in time and meet these people. They're amazing and I love them.

Aaaaanyway...enough gushing. Back to the subject at hand. This is the document, the 1900 census, where I discovered Harry Lynch.

Part 1 of the 1900 census, showing
William P Jordan and Georgiana Farmiloe
living in Everett, MA
(Click to enlarge)
Harry L Lynch b. abt 1885 Everett, MA ca 1900
Page 2 of the 1900 census, showing
Harry L Jordan, their adopted son,
highlighted in red.
(Click to enlarge)

I was hoping to see Harry on more records and follow his life story. Unfortunately Harry isn't on any pre-1900 records that I could find and he disappears after this census. Although Harry isn't a direct ancestor of mine I would love to be able to learn more about him. Where did he come from? Who were his birth parents? What did he end up doing with his life? There are so many questions!

One obvious place to start is his adoption records. I'm not 100% sure he was officially adopted, although that was the law in Massachusetts beginning in 1851. While looking into whether or not adoption records were available for genealogical research I came across this information:
Massachusetts State Archives
As mentioned earlier, vital records between 1841 and 1921 are housed at the State Archives in Boston. Not only can you freely access and copy all vital records for these years, but the rest of their collection is of great importance to most Massachusetts genealogy pursuits.
In their research room, you can find passenger lists, military records, judicial archives, census records, military records, probate documents, adoption records, naturalization documents, photographs, maps and a lot more. You can visit the Archives Monday through Friday, during regular business hours. They also offer regular workshops for people interested in local history and genealogy.
I'm hoping to get there soon and see if I can find Harry's adoption record. That would be such a huge breakthrough!

I've tried searching probate and newspaper records with no results so it looks like I'll just have to wait and see if I can find Harry's adoption papers at the state archives.

I had much more luck helping my friend reconnect with her great-aunt's family. My friend's grandmother and her siblings were adopted separately in the 1920s and were able to find each other over the years, but they couldn't find their youngest sister. was extremely helpful since the sister's family happened to have a family tree there. Unfortunately she passed away a year (to the day!) of me finding her daughter and my friend's grandmother will never get to know her little sister. But they have connected with her children and grandchildren, which has been wonderful for all of them, and very fulfilling for me to watch.

Another story of adoption in my own family tree comes from my Driscoll side. It's not a formal adoption but it is an adoption of sorts. My 2nd great-grandparents William H Driscoll and Mary J Ennis raised their granddaughter Audrey after her mother, my 2nd great-aunt Genevieve, moved to New York and started a new family following her husband's death 2 months before Audrey was born.

The 1930 census, showing Audrey
living with her grandparents
and her aunt in Everett, MA
(Click to enlarge)
The 1940 census, showing Audrey
living with her grandparents
in Everett, MA
(Click to enlarge)

Genevieve was married and had another child within 2 years of Audrey's birth, and I wonder why she didn't have her daughter with her once she was established in her new life. Either way I'm sure William and Mary took great care of Audrey because she grew up to be a wonderful woman who I'm lucky to have known.

My great-grandparents also took a child into their home in the '30s.
The 1930 census, showing Josephine Cader living with
William and Margaret Driscoll in Everett, MA.
The transcription of the image says that the little girl's name is Josephine Cader, but it could just as easily be Goder, Goda or Coda, I can't really tell either way. She is 7 years old in 1930, close to the age of William and Margaret's son William Jr. I wonder if she was a schoolmate of his. The census shows her as a boarder, not an adopted child. But I wanted to include her in this post anyway. She disappears from the home by the 1940 census and there is no record of her anywhere that I can find. Like Harry Lynch, although Josephine isn't related to me I do care about her and feel like she's part of my family. I want to know what came of her, what she did with her life.

While none of my direct ancestors were adopted, I'm very interested in the stories of my great-aunt Audrey, Harry Lynch, and Josephine Cader. Especially Harry and Josephine, since I have no idea what happened to them after the censuses they appeared on. Hopefully one of their descendants is searching for him and ends up on my blog. If that's you, don't hesitate to contact me and let me know what they were up to!

Have you come across adoption in your genealogy research? What obstacles did it cause? If you were able to solve the mysteries, how did you do it? Let me know, I'd love to hear your stories!

Here are some helpful links about adoption in genealogy:


  1. Danielle, great post! Important topic.

    Actually, my paternal grandfather was supposedly adopted--at least that's what he told his young descendents who wanted to be hot on the family history trail. Back then, not every adoption was official or had a paper trail. Sometimes, family just took family in. After all, that was what families were supposed to do, right?

    In Harry Lynch's case, if you absolutely know he is not a blood relative (and if you can't find adoption papers in the archives for him), I wonder if his would be the case of some of those "railroad orphans" I've read about. Or in his case, living more to the east in Massachusetts, would it be possible that his living situation was arranged informally by one of the many charities that tried to remove unfortunate orphans from their desperate living conditions on the streets of the major eastern cities? While this was an effort seen more in the late 1800s, perhaps this might have been the case for Harry's story.

  2. Thank you so much Jacqi! It is important, and as I learn more about it I hope to post more about it.

    I've come across the stories of railroad orphans when looking into the topic of adoption but haven't read up that much about them yet. Even if Harry isn't one of them I would love to know more about it.

    Are there records of any kind for these informal adoptions set up by charities?

  3. Hi Danielle,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in my Fab Finds post this week at

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Very interesting topic. My 2G grandfather also had an "adopted" son but I suspect it was not official since the biological parents lived nearby and seemed to be in his life. I think the family was just too big for the parents to clothe, feed, and house all the kids.

  5. Thanks Jana!

    Wendy, wow that's interesting. It was nice of your 2nd great-grandfather to help that little boy and his family.

  6. Danielle, interesting post. Both my great uncle and I adopted to build our families. I am not sure how we will look on paper generations from now. Thanks for sharing your work. Seeing adoption status (for better or worse) formally recognized in the census was something I had never seen before.

  7. You're welcome, and I am so glad you enjoyed the post.