Monday, March 4, 2013

An adoption in the 1800s

Found at
from the Boston Evening Transcript, Saturday, August 16, 1845
there was a similar marriage notice also in the Boston Recorder, Thursday, August 21, 1845

At South Boston, 7th inst. by the Rev. T. D. Cook, Mr. 

The George Emerson mentioned above is my 3rd Great Grandfather.  I first traced my Emerson lineage more than 30 years ago, when I was a teenager in the 1970s.  I used a book called The Ipswich Emersons 1636 - 1900: A genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Emerson of Ipswich, Mass., with some account of his English Ancestry, by Benjamin Kendall Emerson, privately published in Boston, 1900.  You can read this book at or .  I was taking a genealogy class at the time, and I knew I had to back up this book with primary sources.  

What intrigued me was this passage on page 307: 

George Emerson, son of Romanus and Jemima (Burnham) Emerson, was born at South Boston, Mass. 11 July 1817, and died at Dorchester, Mass., 11 January 1890.  He married, 11 August 1845, Mary Esther Harris, adopted daughter of David Harris, and daughter of Levi and Mary Catherine (Jones) Younger of Boston, where she was born 17 February, 1826.  

What happened to Mary Esther's parents?  Who were they?  And who was David Harris, her adoptive father?  I quickly found out that although there were a few legal adoptions in the court records, there was noting there in the Boston, Suffolk County records about this adoption.  I muddled over this for a few years, hoping to find an answer.  

It was upon looking at Mary Esther's extended family that I found the answer.  Her father was Levi Younger, who I found in the Gloucester Vital Records.  Her mother was Catherine Plummer Jones, who died on 2 May 1828, only 29 years old and with four babies (the youngest died 7 July 1828 which made me think something happened during childbirth?)   In building this family tree, I saw that Levi's sister, Mary, had married a David Harris in 1823.  This wasn't in the Gloucester or Boston vital records, but in another newspaper marriage announcement I found years later when I found it during an internet search.  It took 25 years, but it was worth the wait.  Mary Esther had been "adopted" by her aunt.  

So when I found the marriage announcement at the top of this post, I understood who "Mary Esther Harris" was, even though in family letters and some vital records you will find her as "Mary Esther Younger".   Most informal adoptions (without legal papers being filed) were often between family and extended family at this time period.  Filling out the extended family tree helped to solve this mystery.

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Heather, thanks for sharing. I have a confusing adoption situation (in fact, two) with ties outside the U.S. - much harder to muddle through - so it's helpful to read what others have found.

  2. Excellent research -- congratulations on your find!

  3. I'm glad to know that adoptions were informal and often between family and extended family. I just found out recently that my grandmother and her siblings were adopted, and maybe by using extended family I can find out which relative adopted them. I found her at 3 years old on the 1880 census, and now I'll have to trace back. Hope I can find it before I reach the census years when family members aren't named!

    I guess you're saying that Levi felt he couldn't raise Mary by himself.

    1. I've written about Levi before. He was a mariner (a sailor) so I suppose he wasn't even home most of the time. There was a little boy named Lawrence K. Younger (abt 1824 - 1849) but I don't know who took him in. Levi eventually remarried in abt 1838, and then again after 1845 but there is no evidence he ever had any more children.

  4. My great, great , grandmother was adopted in 1879. Both of her parents died with influenza . We'll the problem is that she was a1/2 Cherokee and 1/2 Choctaw. And she is dead now of course. Which leads me to my problem, have been trying to get our family their roll number. But I have to find some way to prove who her real parents were, not just by word of mouth. The family that took her in was Irish and French. So where could I look next.