American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS

Ask a Genealogist

RSS Feed

Ask a Genealogist: Searching for a possible adoption record in Massachusetts.

 Permanent link


 I am looking for information on my Grandmother's birth. I would really like to find out what her birth parents names were. No one in my family has any information on her except that she was adopted by a family named "Hayden" along with another child named "Richard" that moved to California and that her birth surname was "Duffy". Would like to know the names of my Grandmother's parents and were they we're from?


Reply from Jeanne Belmonte, NEHGS Genealogist

In Massachusetts, adoption records are sealed by the court when finalized and a new, amended birth certificate is issued showing the adoptive parents and new name if any. This amended certificate would be crossed referenced with the original that was issued at birth.
It is possible to obtain an original birth certificate. Information contained on the original birth record would contain at least the name of the birth mother and possibly the address or town where she was living at the time of the birth. It may or may not contain the name of the birth father.

To begin your search you may want to start with obtaining a copy of her original birth record and a copy of the one issued when she was adopted, as this will give information as to where her adoptive parents were living at the time. This information can be helpful in determining which county the adoption took place.

The Archives hold Massachusetts Vital Records to 1920 for all towns and counties in Massachusetts so her 1919 Boston birth record should be located there, and cross referenced with the amended one issued when she was adopted. Since you are not located within visiting distance, they do offer research services. You can contact the Massachusetts State Archives research services at for more information. Adoptions for Boston were carried out the Suffolk County Probate Court. If the adoption was finalized in Suffolk County there would be a probate court case on file. I did a quick search of the book Arthur Sullivan’s "Index Probate Records, Suffolk Co., MA 1910-1922" Boston, MA: 1927, 2 Vol.'s (Reprint by NEHGS) and did not find a Heyward or Duffy in the index. She may have been adopted in another county or outside Massachusetts. 

To determine the agency from which she was adopted may take more digging. There were several homes for unwed mothers as well as organizations that placed children for adoption during that time. The records of these homes often contain more information that what is on the birth record. The largest ones have well documented records. Massachusetts adoption records are held for 99 years. If the records were not destroyed or lost to time, your grandmothers may still exist.

The Boston Children’s Friends Society, has donated their records from 1833-1960 to the archives at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A finding aid is available at The finding aid lists the information contained in each box of records. Included in this information are adoptions that took place at the time your grandmother was placed. You will have to contact the library to find out if they offer any research services or any part of the collection has been digitized.

The Home for Little Wanderers has been in existence since 1865, and has over time merged with many of the other smaller charitable institutions providing service to children, including adoption, children in need and families. You may want to contact the home to inquire if your grandmother was adopted through them.

St. Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers.

The House of Mercy at 244 Townsend Street, Boston Massachusetts, was a home for maternity for unwed mothers. They under the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the diocese may have information regarding St. Mary’s. You may want to contact the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts for information.

The Archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Boston operates Catholic Charities. This agency has placed children since 1903 in Boston and opened otherbranches in the towns and cities surrounding the greater Boston are beginning in 1916. The website has several pages devoted to the services they provide to adopted children and birth parents who searching. You may want to contact them to ask how to obtain records from 1919.

Posted by David Lambert at 01/16/2014 11:33:07 PM | 

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society