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1700's and 1800's Adoptive Children

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By Gilberto - Posted on 17 September 2014

Reading thru church marriage records from the 1700's and 1800's, I find myself wondering who could of adopted children that had no parents. I have seen plenty of marriage records which read "hijo adoptivo" or "hija adoptiva".

My question is:

Would these children most likely be adopted by the "Padrinos" or would they be taken in by immediate relatives.

I have a marriage document for one of my ancestors that indicates that he was and adopted child and he went on to carry the adoptive mothers surname and not the adoptive fathers surname.

Is there any chance that a male adopted child would take on the mothers surname (adoptive mother) instead of the adoptive father so as to continue his "real" surname.

This action makes me wonder if his adoptive mother (aunt, madrina etc) was directly related to his real father and therefore made it easier for him to carry his real surname.

How common was adoption during the 1600's, 1700's and 1800's ?

Were padrinos held responsible for fulfilling their obligation of taking care of a child that lost his parents?

Why does a marriage record of an adopted child not indicate that the parents were "difuntos" and list the parents by name and then list the adoptive parents by name.

This kind of leads me to believe that the child lost his parents at a very very young age and it was best to honor and list the adoptive parents who raised the child from birth.

If the child was an illegitimate child the marriage record would say "padres no conocidos". Right?

Hope someone can shed some light on this topic

Based on what I've seen on numerous records I can assume that adoption wasn't based on any set of rules per say,(although they exist) and thus the situations behind each case would vary. Closer relatives would be more likely to take kids as their own, now taking a kid didn't mean they were always considered adopted, I think the adoption was "official" when there was some inheritance at stake, but definitely not a rule either.

Taking on a specific surname is not uncommon, even by biological sons/daughters specially among big Spanish families we see often kids making their own "set" of last names, now in your ancestor's case it seems like he could be in fact his adoptive mother relative and thus he used her last name but again, this is not a rule and could easily be that he just was too close to her.

Official adoption is usually not seen too often, but once we read many records we can see that there were many families that "house in" relatives at the point they were considered part of them, and in many cases the true identity behind them is unknown, I wouldn't consider adoption unusual but poorly recorded.

As for records, well they were not really systematic, many information was "loosely" recorded and many things important for us now were left out, some records would barely say anything of the adoptions. Also some kids would be adopted regardless of their parents been actually dead, (like natural or illegitimate) kids, all of this would not appear on records and one have to play detective in order to find more about it. Therefore, even if the records don't mention some aspects it doesn't mean they didn't happen, and the older the manuscripts the more discrepancies we encounter unfortunately.

Hope it helps a little.

RJ Quiralta

Gil Ramirez

Interesting, thanks for the input RJ. Any feed back helps me think outside of the box.

Are there other sources available that I can use to research, property, names of people, deeds (escrituras), ranchos, pueblos, and HACIENDAS?

Its always good to outsource a little when discerning about the past, I spend many hours on little details that a the end where just the lack of standardized manuscripts, things like "why they didn't mention this or that" "why this person appears with other names" etc. It was until I start reading records in general, not just the ones I was interested in, that I got a wider idea of the conditions of writings of old days, some times little details do matter though.

I am confined to only the internet, don't really know much about other sources, thus FamilySearch is mostly my only source, but I have used PARES and the Biblioteca Publica del estado de Jalisco also has an index for many civil records, some date back before Mexico's Independence. Amaya Topete's works are also a good source (if you can consult any of them), and many other are also cited here in this page.

RJ Quiralta

i don't really know. i wonder if in some case of hijo(o/a) adoptiv(o/a) the child didn't know who their actual parents were(i think that's the case for some who are labeled as padres no conocido also, but padres no conocidos can also refer to 'natural' children.)

also last names weren't always passed down in a consistant manner. for example, on person on my tree didn't get either parent's last name, and instead got his last name derived from the place he grew up at.

One of my female ancestors was described as a "hija de padres no conocidos" in her marriage record (partida matrimonial), but in her marriage information (información matrimonial) she was described as a "hija natural (según dicen) de..."; both daughter and mother bore the same surname. I do believe that some children of "padres no conocidos" were, in fact, natural children who deliberately concealed the identities of their parents.


Adopted or hijos de padres no conocidos or hijo natural are terms that I, like most genealogists, hate to find in my research for it often leads to a dead end in the family tree. Though I still don't like finding these terms, they are not always dead ends and more research sometimes reveals the parents names. I had a few, what I had thought to be, dead ends that ended up being just a bump in the road and I was able to eventually find out the identity of at least one of the parents. This is where it pays off to research siblings and their descendants hoping that their records bring light to what is often hidden on purpose.

I have found this data in all sorts of records so look at all the ones you can find. A siblings marriage certificate revealed the father in one case. Both siblings had originally listed as padre desconocido but subsequent records revealed the father of the sibling. Another record revealed that they had the same father. The baptismal records of two siblings, one before and one after revealed clues that were used to uncover a families secret. Marriage dispensations have repeatedly revealed a previously unknown father (this one occurs often).


yeah i've come accross a few marriage dispensations that have revealed the parents names of a 'natural' child.

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