All family mysteries are interesting to me, but it is always the Early Adoption stories that grab my attention and send me on an unexpected journey. I call them “Early Adoptions” because they took place long after the Adoptee has passed away, and require creative legwork to figure out where to look since the records are old and laws may not have been in existence. These Early Adoptions are muddied by the fact that courthouses burned or flooded, family stories handed down are manipulated to hide the truth, laws were not passed yet requiring a paper trail, and basically people were too ashamed to talk about it.
Heartbreaking for sure. But all mysteries can be solved.
Here are some of our most interesting adoption cases that we have worked on to date:
1. Giulia was an Italian woman born about 1878 and the family believed she was adopted in Chicago Illinois after escaping Italy due to a fear for her life. After researching her family, I discovered that Giulia was born in Calvello Italy. I had the good luck of finding the online birth records for this small town, but they were written in Italian, not English. I don’t speak Italian. So I literally went thru the records by hand looking for 3 names that I could read = the name Giulia or her adopted parent’s Rosaria and Nicolai. I still cannot believe what I stumbled across. After spending an entire day flipping thru about 5 years of births, I found a record at the back of the book where special cases were written about.
Note the name on the left says Giulia. The top row on the right shows the name Rosaria. I had a translator in Italy read the document and tell me the following:
This is the birth record (#14) for Giulia Agrifoglio
Rosaria, a 23 year old seamstress, is not declaring that she is the mother, but that she found the infant. She presents the infant to the official who gives the infant the name Giulia, and the surname [cognome] Agrifoglio. This was usually a "made-up" name and not found in the town.
I believe Rosaria requested that the child be left in her care. No mother or father is identified... that is why you see "Esposita" under Giulia's name in the left column where you would normally see the parents' names.
It is an amazing discovery but unfortunately one that probably means the family will never know who her real parents are.
2. An infant named Nellie was adopted in Indiana around 1885. She supposedly searched a few times in her life to find her birth family but with no luck. 128 years later, her great granddaughter took it upon herself to try to research the birth, but also hit a brick wall. So she contacted us for help. After spending several frustrating hours without finding any records, I searched for and found an orphanage in the town where the family lived. There it was, Nellie’s record of being taken home by her adopted father, and it named the birth mother and birth grandmother who had dropped her off.
3. A baby named Joseph was born out of wedlock in Boston around 1924. We were lucky enough to know the birth mother’s name, but the family could not figure out where she was after the birth. I was able to locate a simple obituary for Joseph’s birth grandfather, which named the birth mother and her new married name. All the pieces fell together and we located 11 living cousins for the family to reach out to.
4. One of my most interesting and frustrating cases was a son who told me the story about his mother being switched at birth in Quebec around 1929. She was told the harrowing story after her “adopted” father passed away, and the details were that her real birth parents were unmarried from the United States. On the same day of her birth, in the same hospital, a son was born to the adopted parents but died because he was a hemophiliac. The doctor agreed to switch the babies and no records existed. My research uncovered her baptism to the adopted parents that raised her in Quebec, but no death record of the hemophiliac son. To date, we do not know who the real parents are.
5. This month, we just helped a woman in Minnesota figure out the real birth father of her Irish great grandfather James. Her brick wall was based on a family story that James was told upon his mother’s death that the father he grew up with was not his birth father. In fact, James’ mother was previously married, gave the first 2 sons away who died in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and kept baby James before getting remarried. With only this story to go on, we scoured through the local courthouse and Catholic Church, and found a vital record entry of her 2nd marriage noting her name as Mrs. That told us she was a widow. The client immediately found his death record in the 1870 US Federal Census Mortality Schedules of 1870. We have not found what happened to the other 2 children born to this couple and even researched local Guardianship records in the County Courthouse. Sadly it appears the story may be true. Our next step is to research the cemeteries in Chicago for a burial record since a certificate of death was not found for either son.
6. Then there is our own family story where my father found out his mother was adopted on the night she passed away. After spending an entire year digging through Cook County courthouse records, I found the birth mother had actually taken my grandmother home for the first year in 1900, gave her to the “adopted” father in 1901, and would occasionally visit her in Chicago until she moved away before 1910. By 1911, she agreed to let the official adoption take place, and then remarried the next month. She died in Twin Falls Idaho. But the most amazing part was the whispers that the adopted father was actually the birth father. So we found a living descendant of his sister, and she agreed to take a DNA test. It came back as a strong 3rd cousin, confirming that he was actually the real father but had to adopt her because he was not listed on the birth certificate. Thank God for DNA. Read the full story at the link below:
7. Today, we have taken on an adoption case that takes us back to Nova Scotia Canada. It will be very difficult to research foreign records from the 1880’s but we are ready for the challenge. Fingers crossed for success.
Ancestry Sisters has started a new Facebook page called Adoption Genealogy. This is a community to help answer questions on how and where to research your family's mysteries related to Early Adoptions, Orphanages, and Guardianships. Follow us, LIKE our page and ask questions on the link below.