Archival Research and Genealogy
Empty-Handed Search for Adoptive History

I thought I would call the Morton County, North Dakota, Courthouse and request some files, lay out my credit card and wait patiently for my treasure of information to arrive in my Maryland mailbox a week later.  I would have been correct if I was searching out an old probate record, but dead wrong when it comes to adoption records.

“Those records are sealed.”   So, said the clerk with whom I was pleading my case over the phone.  My grandfather, Francis Xavier WELCH, and his big sister, Ruth Bess WELCH, were both supposedly legally adopted by their maternal grandfather, Frank WILDER, of Mandan, ND.  No, those records are sealed even to descendants in the direct lineage of the suspected adopted child.  Hmmm.

After a short discussion with my venerable Aunt Frances, it seemed that Frank WILDER most likely waited to formally adopt until after the death of the children’s birth father, Charles Olonzo WELCH, in November 1919. Frank WILDER already had the the younger Frank and Ruth living in his home for about ten years.   I theorized a number of reasons why that made sense.  ”Charlie” WELCH lived at the western boundary of the State in Beach, ND.  Margaret Jane (WILDER) WELCH had remarried an older widow named James M. NAYLOR to whom she had two children between 1915 and 1920.  Frank “Sr.” probably just felt it best to let this sleeping dog lie.  Charlie had remarried a woman in Beach who already had a young girl.

But the 1920 Census was bugging me.  Why was Ruth’s surname listed as “WELCH,” and young Frank’s surname “WILDER.”  Did this indicate a process which was taking place, or took place, since Charlie’s tragic death in November 1919?  Well, regardless of whether or not the adoption records are closed, it would seem that a legal name change would be an open record.  So, that is the subject of my next phone call to Mandan, ND, this week.

(NOTE: I am totally open to any tidbits of information which might help in this discovery process from Frank’s or Ruth’s sides of the family.)

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