[APG Public List] Pennsylvania Adoption

Judy frostfree12 at yahoo.com
Sun Sep 26 20:15:28 MDT 2010

Carol asked "I am attempting to find an original birth certificate for a  man adopted  about 1870 in PA. I have tried getting it from the state to no  avail. Does anyone have any ideas, contacts, etc.?"

Elissa is quite right about lack of birth records.  There is one exception; in 1853 Congress mandated that birth, marriage and death records be kept nationwide.  Many PA Counties did this, but since this was an unfunded mandate the Act was rescinded in 1854.  A few Counties did continue keeping the records but most did not.  In some Counties I have found total lack of knowledge of existence of the records in this time period on the part of the County Clerk.  You do not say when the person was born, so I could not guess whether this might be an avenue.

One other possibility is if the adoptive father had served in the Civil War and applied for and received a US Pension.  Especially if he was survived by a widow who successfully applied for a pension, there are likely to be at least a couple of lists of children with birthdates.  In this instance there may also be some description of the birthdate of an adoptive child and circumstances surrounding the adoption.  If the adoption was not a formal matter but was simply a relative's or other couple's taking on raising the child, this is less likely to be documented in a pension file.

You do not give information about the circumstances surrounding the adoption, but another possibility is if the child was orphaned.  If the child's father or parents had any property a guardian should have been appointed and some fiduciary accounts filed.  County Court records in this case can be quite helpful, and one would expect a statement of the child's date of birth for the sake of setting a date when reaching majority and the guardian's responsibility and authority would expire.  There could also be some Court activity on behalf of the child, or (after reaching majority) by the child, concerning the guardian's disposition of assets.

If the child was orphan of a Union Civil War veteran who died while in service, Congressional legislation of (I think) 1866 allocated stipends to minor children of the vets to be paid until they reached age 16.  In this case as well there may be a guardian appointed who filed fiduciary accounts in addition to application for the stipend that would be included in the Pension Files and Pension File Index under the name of the deceased parent as well as of the child.  The Pension Office required evidence as to dates of birth of such children.  The guardian may state in the last accounting when the child reached age 16.

In essence, there may be some circumstance in your knowledge of the event where someone had occasion to record a contemporaneous or first-hand narrative.  If the actual event was that the child was indentured to a theoretical apprenticeship rather than was adopted, there also would be a court record stipulating a date of birth since the indenture would expire when the child reached majority.  In PA, such indentures were not outlawed until the 1880s (not sure whether 1886 or 1888).

Good hunting,


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