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Adoption & Guardianship Research at the Archives & Library of the Ohio History Connection

History of Adoptions & Guardianships in Ohio

Below is a timeline on the history of adoption, guardianship, and care for minors and wards in the state of Ohio from the Northwest Territory to the present.

►1795: Supervised guardians, trustees, executors, and administrators who cared for the property of orphans and minor children were assigned by Orphans’ courts established by the Ohio Territorial Assembly. The only known surviving Orphans’ Court records are from Belmont County, we hold a microfilm copy in our collection.  

►1803: County Courts of Common Pleas were given jurisdiction of awarding guardianship of minors, wards, and supervising guardians’ management of accounts, including real property, from 1803-1851. Children were cared for by a legal guardian appointed by the county Court of Common Pleas if the father of the child died or was unable to care for them. The mother was not considered the legal guardian. Guardianship did not constitute legal adoption. 

►1803-1851: Supreme Court on Circuit also heard cases and appeals of cases concerning guardianship of minors, management of their accounts, and disposition of property. Hearings were recorded in Supreme Court records for each county. The local Court of Common Pleas judge and Clerk of Courts kept these records. Supreme Court on Circuit was abolished by the 1851 Ohio Constitution and was replaced by District Courts. This court was an appeals court only, no original cases were heard.

►1816: The 14th Ohio General Assembly authorized County Commissioners to build county poor houses to care for the poor. 

►1850: County poor houses expanded duties to serve as a county infirmary. Infirmaries cared for the needy, sick, epileptics, and mentally ill. Orphaned children or children whose parents could not care for them also lived at county infirmaries.

►1851: Ohio's Constitution, Article IV, established Probate Courts as one of the courts of the State of Ohio. The General Assembly gave statutory authority to Probate Courts to exercise jurisdiction in awarding guardianships of minors and supervising the management of guardians’ accounts. Probate courts also heard insanity hearings and decided if someone should be sent to a hospital for the mentally ill.  

 

State Archives Series 3810, Adoption Complete Record, 1852-1955, Franklin County, Ohio, Probate Court, GR 5221, Book 74.

 

►March 29, 1859: Ohio's first adoption statute became law under the 53rd Ohio General Assembly. Any state inhabitant not married, or husband and wife jointly had the right to petition the proper county Probate Court for the adoption of a minor child not theirs by birth, and for a change of name of such child. 

►1859-1938: Adoption case files are located at the county Probate Court where the adoption occurred. Please contact the appropriate county court for more information on adoptions during this time period. 

►1866: Separate from county infirmaries, the 57th Ohio General Assembly authorized County Commissioners to build children's homes. This service was provided to children who were orphaned or whose parents abandoned them. Each county children’s home kept its own records, which became the custody of County Commissioners when the home closed. 

►March 1, 1870: An amendment to the adoption law allowed institutions to place children with adoptive families.

►1938 to present: Adoption case files are located at the county Probate Court where the adoption occurred. According to Ohio Revised Code 3107, Probate Courts are required to send birth, medical, and putative parent information to the Ohio Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics. The Department of Health keeps files that contain names of adoptees, adoptive and birth parents and other vital information that is statewide. Please contact the appropriate county court and health department for more information on adoptions during this time period.


What records do we have?

The records we hold vary by organization and county. Check our list of Children's Homes, County Children's Homes, and County Court records and resources affiliated with Adoptions and Guardianships. Each set is linked to our catalog with more information. The Scope and Content section of the catalog record describes what information to expect from the collection. All restricted collections include a restriction notice in their catalog record.

Before 1851, county Courts of Common Pleas exercised authority over all matters regarding guardians. From 1859, Probate Courts became the court of record for all guardianship matters and adoptions. Probate Court journals/order books and complete records are some of the best sources to search for adoption or guardianship proceedings. Records created by County Commissioners are also possible agencies to search as custodians of county and children’s home records. You can search our Online Collections Catalog for records related to guardianship and adoption (example search term: Franklin County Probate)

Online Collection Catalog for Print Material



What records do we not have?

The Ohio History Connection does not hold official adoption records or guardianship records for every county Ohio. Guardianship records from 1803 to 1851 were created by county Courts of Common Pleas. Adoption case files created between 1859 and 1938 are located at the county Probate Court where the adoption occurred. Voters in each Ohio county can decide if the Probate Court remains a separate court or is a division of the county Court of Common Pleas.

From 1938 to the present, adoption case files are located at the county Probate Court where the adoption occurred. Probate Courts are required to send birth, medical, and putative parent information to the Ohio Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics. The Department of Health keeps files that contain names of adoptees, adoptive and birth parents and other vital information that is statewide. 

Assignment of individuals to a county home or children’s home is the responsibility of County Commissioners. Township trustees recommended that persons be accepted by these homes and paid a part of the cost through their poor tax budget, but commissioners had final authority. Each county home and children’s home kept its own admission, discharge, death, and other records.  These became the custody of the County Commissioners when county homes and children’s homes closed. 

You may want to contact the genealogical society of the county where the adoption occurred. They may have additional research suggestions. A list of county genealogical societies is available at http://www.ogs.org/chapters/index.php


Additional Resources

Visit the Franklin County Law Library Child Adoption Law in Ohio research guide for more information on adoptions in Ohio.

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library has a Genealogy and Ohio Adoption research aid on their website.