National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Adoption Records

Adoption Records

For advice about tracing your original birth record or a child that you have given up for adoption please see also our Adoption page in the Registration area of this website.

This guide provides information about:

  • adoptions before and after 1930
  • legal records of adoption (where they are held, the information they contain and how they can be accessed)
  • advice and counselling

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.  We do not hold 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 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.

Adopted Children's Register

The Registrar General for Scotland has maintained the Adopted Children Register since 1930. It is a register of persons adopted under orders made by the Scottish courts. There are no entries relating to persons born before October 1909.

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 offer counselling and advice:

  • Barnardo's Scottish Adoption Advice Service, Building 10000, Academy Park, Gower Street, Glasgow G51 1PR (telephone 0141 419 4796)
  • Birthlink, 21 Castle Street, Edinburgh EH2 3DN (telephone 0131 225 6441)
  • Birthlink maintains 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 services.
  • Scottish Adoption provides counselling and holds records of adoptions it has arranged as well as those arranged by Edinburgh and Lothian Social Work Department, the Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Its address is 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 (BAAF). 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 United Kingdom. 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 and 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. The address for BAAF is: Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS
  • Counselling Directory was set up by a team, who through their own experiences, have learnt how the right support can help transform lives. To ensure the professionalism of our website, all counsellors have provided us with qualifications and insurance cover or proof of membership with a professional body. With over 10,000 qualified counsellors listed on the site; visitors are able to find a counsellor in their local area appropriate for their needs. The directory contains information on adoption which covers statistics, the adoption process, adoption concerns, adoption law and how counselling can help with the adoption process.
Where are the Legal Records of Adoptions Kept?

Records of adoptions originating in the Court of Session are kept at that court for five years.

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 court records will eventually transfer to the National Records of Scotland and become available in our adoptions unit. As a general rule, if an adoption took place less than 25 years ago, you should contact the court to confirm where the records are held.

Do all the Legal Records of Adoptions Survive?

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

Who Can Inspect the Legal Records of an Adoption?

Adoption processes are among the most confidential records we and the courts hold. They are closed to general public access for 100 years. This means that our staff are 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 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 us. By law, our staff cannot 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 authorised social worker on the authority, in writing, of 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.

What Information is Needed to Locate the Legal Papers of An Adoption?

To locate an adoption we need to know the adopted person's adoption name, the date of adoption and the court that dealt with the adoption.  Then we 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. We can only see visitors who have made a prior appointment. 

The advance notice will allow us to check that we do in fact have the appropriate records. To make an appointment please email us at [email protected]

I Want to See my Adoption Papers. Can I Bring a Friend or Relative with Me?


Can the National Records of Scotland provide Photocopies?

We can only provide copies of a process for the personal use of the adoptee or their nominated representative if the adoptee attends in person. These copies will be made in their presence. With the exception of a court order, there are no circumstances in which we will provide copies to anyone else.

What Information will the Adoption Process Contain?

The adoption court 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
  • confirmation from the court that the adoption may go ahead.

Any other information depends on what the birth parents revealed.  As they were under no obligation to reveal any information whatsoever, some adoption processes contain minimal information 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.