Monday, October 29, 2012


First, I would like to apologize for the lack of posts. With the impending arrival of a new family member, preparing for him takes priority. I will try to post once a month, until I get settled and back into the swing of things, but I’m focused on accomplishing as much work as possible right now.

Second… Have you ever had a family member simply drop off the face of the earth? Perhaps you saw them in the 1870 and 1880 census, but lost them after that (or another) point.  You know what became of their elder siblings, if they had any, and you also know their parents died when they were quite young. You cannot locate a marriage or death record for this person, so where did they go?

I have very, very limited experience with adoption, and the one I managed to find was a happy accident. After combing through the censuses and Massachusetts Vital Records again and again for Mary Elizabeth Haley (b. 14 October 1860 in Plympton to John B. Haley and Mary Peterson), I finally Googled her name. As always, never underestimate the power of Google.  

Mary showed up in the following document:

"List of Persons Whose Names Have Been Changed in Massachusetts 1780-1892", Collated and Published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under Authority of Chapter 191 of the Acts of the Year 1893. Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1972.
Once I read down the list and realized Mary was adopted by her maternal aunt and uncle, it changed my entire focus. I began searching for “Mary Thompson” and found 1889 her marriage to Sidney Smith Baker in Massachusetts Vital Records.

Each state has different adoption laws. Some make it quite easy to search and some make it more difficult. Sometimes, all it takes is a Google search to uncover old adoption documents or name change lists, such as in Mary’s case. Sometimes, a little more digging is required.

However, whenever I have a relative who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, and the circumstances show their parents died while they were quite young, I often suspect adoption. It’s a subject that is tricky, because there is no universal/national system to account for adoptions. Beyond a very fortunate Google search, laws and resources must be narrowed down by state.
I think this is a topic that really needs and deserves more attention in the genealogical community, because adoptions and name changes probably account for a fair amount of our "brick walls."

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan


  1. I don't have a lot of experience in adoption, but one source of information common in New England States are Town Reports. Sometimes in town reports I've seen money paid to individuals in town for something like "Care of John Doe's children". If a child is missing, you might try finding and looking at town reports. I recently wrote a blog post about what you might find in town reports.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. So true, Jim!

      I've found town reports VERY useful in other matters, such as tracking the movement of paupers.

      A great resource to add to the list for learning about potential adoptions!