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Thursday 28 May 2015

Adoption records

Adoptions before 1930

Before 1930 adoptions were arranged on a private basis, either by individuals or by one of a number of charitable adoption agencies. NRS currently holds no records for adoptions before 1930.

Adoptions after 1930

The Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930 introduced legal adoption into Scotland from that year. Adoptions since then have normally been arranged by charitable bodies or by local authority social work departments and then ratified by the civil courts. The majority of adoptions are ratified through the local sheriff courts, although a tiny number (perhaps two or three each year) are settled through the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Advice and counselling

Often adopted people can find the whole business of tracking down their birth parents very distressing. Similarly, the adoption papers themselves can sometimes contain upsetting revelations. Because of this it is best to seek advice and counselling before beginning such a search. If you are starting from scratch, the best first step is to identify the agency that arranged the adoption. The following services both offer counselling and advice:

Barnardo's Scottish Adoption Advice Service


Suite 5/3, Skypark SP5, 45 Finnieston Street, Glasgow, G3 8JU
Telephone: 0141 248 7530

21 Castle Street, Edinburgh EH2 3DN
Telephone: 0131-225-6441

Birthlink maintain the adoption contact register for Scotland. Adopted people, birth parents and birth relatives can use this register to note their wish for contact or otherwise. Birthlink also keeps a register of the whereabouts of adoption records, particularly those arranged by local authorities and adoption societies.

Scottish Adoption provides counselling and as well as holding the records of adoptions arranged by themselves, holds those for Edinburgh and Lothian Social Work Department, The Church of Scotland, and The Scottish Episcopal Church.

Scottish Adoption 161 Constitution Street, Edinburgh EH6 7DF
Telephone: 0131 553 5060

The Adoption Search Reunion website is run by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. It aims to help anyone thinking about searching for or making contact with birth and adopted relatives or researching an adoption that took place in the UK. It has a useful online database for locating adoption records, which allows you to search for the most likely holder of the adoption records created by a home (maternity, mother & baby, shelter etc), organisation or local authority involved in the birth or adoption, or a staff member who worked in one of these homes or organisations.

Adoption Search and Reunion
(for website address see under other websites on the left side of this page)
British Association for Adoption and Fostering
Saffron House
6-10 Kirby Street
London EC1N 8TS

Where are the legal records of adoptions kept?

The records of adoptions originating in the Court of Session are kept at that court for five years. The records of adoptions in sheriff courts are generally kept in the local courthouse for up to 25 years after the process closed. All of these records will eventually come to the Legal Search Room of the National Records of Scotland (NRS). As a general rule, if an adoption took place less than 25 years ago, you should contact the court (or the NRS) to confirm where the records are, before making a visit.

Do all the legal records of adoptions survive?

The overwhelming majority of the adoption records for the years after 1930 do survive. Inevitably, however, from the many thousands of processes, a few are missing. This is one reason why it is worthwhile contacting the court (or the NRS) before making a visit.

Who can inspect the legal records of an adoption?

Adoption processes are among the most confidential records held in the courts and the NRS and they are closed to general public access for 100 years. This means that the staff of the NRS are also forbidden to examine them. Each process is individually sealed and the indexes themselves are restricted. The processes may, however, be opened to access in the following circumstances:
  • to the adopted person if he or she is over 16 years of age. They must produce their birth certificate (to prove that they are adopted), together with some independent proof of their identity (passport, driving licence, staff pass from place of employment, etc).
  • to a person authorised in writing by the adopted person. A copy of this authorisation must be given to the NRS. By law, the NRS cannot themselves inspect a process on behalf of an adopted person.
  • to a representative of one of the organisations that deal with adoptions in Scotland, or to an authorized social worker. As before, this authority must come in writing from the adopted person.
  • exceptionally, and on application to the court that originally dealt with the adoption, a person other than the adoptee may be allowed to inspect the adoption process. This is very rare and is usually only granted for reasons such as medical grounds. Once it has been examined, the packet of process papers is resealed in the presence of the person who has read them. All enquiries are kept confidential and the NRS keeps no permanent record of the names or other details of people who have looked at their adoption papers.

What information is needed to locate the legal papers of an adoption?

To locate an adoption, the NRS staff need to know the adopted person's birth name, the date of adoption and the court that dealt with the adoption. This information can be obtained from:

Registrar General for Scotland National Records of Scotland, New Register House, West Register Street, Edinburgh EH1 2YT

With this information the NRS staff can advise whether the record is held here or in a local court.

Things to do before coming to inspect adoption papers

If you want to see your adoption papers, please do not visit us without notice. Contact us in advance so that we can ensure that your visit is not wasted. This advance notice will allow us to check that we do in fact have the appropriate records. We can then have them out waiting for your arrival. It will avoid your having to sit waiting while we work through the complicated indexes. Our telephone number is 0131 535 1355 or 0131 535 1383.

I want to see my adoption papers. Can I bring a friend or relative with me?


Can the NRS provide photocopies?

We can only provide copies of a process if the adoptee attends in person. These copies will be made in the presence of the adopted person. With the exception of a court order, there are no circumstances in which the NRS will provide copies to anyone else.

What information will the adoption process contain?

The process will normally contain a copy of the original birth certificate; an official report to the court at the time of the adoption; a petition by the adopting parents; the consent of the birth mother (occasionally the consent of the birth father); the name of any adoption agency involved; and confirmation from the court that the adoption may go ahead. What other information it may contain will depend on what the birth parents revealed. As they are under no obligation to reveal any information whatsoever, the information that can be obtained is often minimal and sometimes nothing. People examining their adoption process should be prepared both for this and for the possibility that the papers may reveal other distressing information.
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Page last updated: 7 May 2013

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