Famous Adoptees include President Gerald Ford and Nancy Davis Reagan, Though Genealogy Records Vary

When searching for adoption records, the professional genealogist will find all types of information available. Some states have open records. Others do not. As in the cases of two of our famous first families–the Fords and the Reagans– our professional genealogist finds that the documentation is different in each case.

When looking for genealogy services, you’ll find a number of hot topics–including DNA and adoption. In both areas, as with many ancestry searches and genealogical research projects, privacy is one of the most primary concerns.

This RecordClick genealogist understands the need for handling sensitive issues with care. Yet, sometimes we need to know more. A good number of adoptees would like to access their records if for no other reason than to obtain information on medical history.  For those who might decide to use genealogy services for such a search and to understand how things are now, it helps to take a look how we got here. Adoption Notices in Newspapers

As emotional as the issue of adoption may be now, it wasn’t always so. Adoption stories and information, including legal notices, used to appear in newspapers regularly. Adoption wasn’t even an option in the United States until 1851. “The Adoption History Project” on the University of Oregon website discusses a number of issues pertaining to the practice and includes one of this genealogist’s favorite aides – a timeline.

Dates of note in the history of adoption in the U.S:

  • 1851 – Massachusetts passed the first modern adoption law based on child welfare.
  • 1854 – The New York Children’s Aid Society launched the orphan trains.
  • 1910-1930 – The first specialized adoption agencies were founded.
  • 1917 – The Minnesota adoption law was revised to mandate confidential records and, between the world wars, many states followed suit.
  • 1998 – Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 58 allowing adult adoptees access to original birth certificates.

The welfare of children whose parents have died or are incapable of caring for them has been an ongoing concern in many countries. Even with the noblest of intentions, the family members and institutions that tried to serve these children came up short. Sometimes, family members, as well as the overcrowded and under staffed orphanages, were unable to give these children the attention they needed. Many of these children, robbed of their childhoods, were left to work in jobs unsuitable even for adults. When these children lived in large cities, life could be very difficult and they often ended up living in the streets.

Massachusetts and New York were among the most progressive states in seeking ways to deal with the situation of these children. In 1854, the New York Children’s Aid Society started orphan trains, taking local city children in need of homes and relocating them to more rural areas. The program lasted into the 1900s and touched the lives of over 200,000 youngsters. In 1868, the Massachusetts Board of State Charities began paying families to board children in private homes.

For the family history researcher using census records, a child in a home listed as a border rather than a family member may well have been an orphan or a child whose family members could not care for him or her. While there were formal adoptions in the U.S. before 1900, they were a rare occurrence. Most families could not afford or did not want to pay the legal fees in formalizing the process. In the early 1900s, legal notices in newspapers were considered part of this formal adoption process. In the U.S., when searching for genealogy services, your professional genealogist will know that that the adoption laws vary from state to state. For example, this professional genealogist lives in Nebraska and in Nebraska, if there is a published legal notice, that case becomes open to the public.

How families handled adoptions may be of interest to those seeking professional genealogy services. For both President Gerald Ford and First Lady Nancy Reagan, their parents divorced when each was a small child. Both of their mothers were awarded custody of the children and both of their mothers remarried.


President Ford was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents separated shortly after his birth in 1913. His mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, made her way back home to Michigan. She married Gerald R. Ford Sr. in 1916. The future president was renamed Gerald R. Ford Jr. No legal action was taken until 1935 and he was never formally adopted. The family is listed in the 1920 U.S. Census in Grand Rapids, MI.


First Lady Nancy Reagan was born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City in 1921. Her parents divorced in 1928 and her mother, Edith Prescott Luckett, married Loyal Davis in 1929. The family then relocated to Chicago. Nancy was adopted by Davis in 1935. The record of the family is in the 1930 U.S. Census in Chicago. Nancy Reagan in the Census

Every household is unique and when seeking professional genealogy services, one needs to stay aware of this. Some people more than others are more open to sharing information. Both President Ford and Nancy Reagan knew their biological fathers even though their adopted fathers were considered their family members.

As adoptees become more active in knowing their genealogy, they sometimes find that the state laws have, from time to time, changed. For those interested in searching for their personal genealogy, the professional genealogy services company you hire will most certainly look into some of these resources including the Child Welfare Information Gateway, The Adoption History Project, and the National Orphan Train Complex.

The professional genealogists at RecordClick are among the best to cull information for adoptees and families.