Family history: how adoption became a legal process

Only in 1926 did adoption of children in the UK become a legal process, it was part of a process to remove illegitimate children from their ‘unfit’ mothers and place them with a respectable married couple. Until the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, adoptions were often arranged privately or via the mother-and-baby home where the birth took place.

1926 Adoption of Children Act


In the 19th century there were hundreds of mother-and-baby homes where an unmarried pregnant woman would be housed and her pregnancy and birth overseen. She would remain with her baby during the early weeks while an adoption was arranged. Many women attended these homes secretly to avoid the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child. As an alternative to adoption, some single mothers left their child in the care of baby farmers who would care for the child for a fee, supposedly enabling the mother to return to work. However some baby farmers were found guilty of abuse and neglect.

Prior to the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, ten bills had been introduced to Parliament by 1922 in an effort to regulate adoption. Finally the act became law on January 1, 1927. It provided assurance for the adoptive parents that the birth parents could not demand their child be returned. The court making the adoption order had to make sure that the birth parents understood the implications of what they were doing. The Act also cut out the practice of baby farming, as the exchange of money for an adoption was illegal unless sanctioned by the court.

And, importantly for genealogists, the Adopted Children Register was established. This can be consulted at the General Register Office.

For more information about mother-and-baby homes, check these two websites: Mother and Baby Homes, and Children’s Homes.

Adoption was finally legalised in Scotland in 1930 with The Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930.

This post is inspired by an article in the January 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
DNA test for ancestral connections
Identifying headstones
Was your relative a nurse?

1926 Adoption of Children Act


When Rose Haldane starts to research the story of her own adoption in Ignoring Gravity, she discovers the private nature of her adoption means records are minimal. Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now

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